Monday, September 13, 2010
By MELISSA REPKO / The Dallas Morning News
ARLINGTON – Toting strollers and water bottles, thousands of Muslims visited Six Flags Over Texas on Sunday for the fourth annual Muslim Family Day at the amusement park.
Muslim Family Day is sponsored by the local chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America and was timed to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The event began at the Six Flags in New Jersey in 2000 and later was adopted at other Six Flags parks.
Attendance at the Arlington park has been about 8,000 to 10,000 each year since the first local Muslim Family Day in 2007, said Mohammad Barney, a Euless resident and president of the Dallas-Fort Worth ICNA chapter. This year, at least 5,000 tickets were sold, he said. The final ticket count will not be available until next week.
The Islamic Circle of North America, founded in 1968, sponsors the Muslim Family Day events. The organization seeks to raise awareness and understanding of Islam and provide services for the needy, Barney said. The Dallas-Fort Worth chapter feeds the hungry in downtown Dallas, provides refugee assistance and helps in relief efforts after natural disasters, he said.
For a day, Six Flags served hamburgers, Philly cheesesteaks and a menu of other foods that were halal – meaning with meat prepared and certified according to Islamic law. In the amusement park’s amphitheater, visitors could gather for prayer during the five traditional times of the day. Some visitors were bused in from Houston, Austin and Oklahoma.
Barney visited Six Flags with his wife and three children.
“You see other Muslims around, just feeling comfortable and enjoying rides,” Barney said. “With all the negative media going on about Muslims and Islam, this gives a sense that there are good things going on also.”
For Maaz Alhaq of Dallas and Syed Haq of Houston, Muslim Family Day was like a family reunion. The cousins gathered with about 30 relatives. Alhaq, 18, a University of Texas at Dallas student, and Haq, 19, hoped to ride every roller coaster, despite long lines.
“It doesn’t matter, when you’re with family,” Haq said. “I am not worried about the heat. I just want to have fun.”
The family gathering comes at a difficult time for the religious group, with recent attention on the proposal for an Islamic community center in New York City and a Florida pastor’s threat to burn Qurans on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
A recent study from the Pew Forum of Religion and Public Life found that the number of Americans with a favorable view of Islam has dropped to 30 percent, down from 41 percent five years ago.
Even Muslim Family Day attracted attention, with some questioning its timing a day after 9/11. A Facebook group titled “Boycott Six Flags for Muslims Day 9-12-10″ had nearly 2,000 members.
Barney said he encourages people to ask questions about Islam.
“One of the main goals of ICNA is to give the correct perception of what Islam is,” he said. “Something like this shows people Muslims are not terrorists, they are family members with children. … It just encourages me to get out there and try to give the right message and the right impression.”
Article Courtesy: The Dallas Morning News