By Jennifer Garza
Visitors to the California State Fair can find booths demonstrating everything from juicers to cleaning products. For the fourth year in a row, there is also a booth about Islam.
On the first floor of Building C, next to a space that sells headphones for athletes, fairgoers can pick up free Qurans and brochures. This year, DVDs about Islam are also available. Muslim volunteers are on hand to answer questions about their religion.
So far, hundreds have stopped by.
“I think it will be as good or better than last year,” said Shane Yoder, president of the Sacramento Chapter Islamic Circle of North America, which sponsored the WhyIslam? booth. Last year, the group handed out 2,500 Qurans at the fair.
“There’s definitely a lot of interest,” he said.
Spreading faith at the State Fair may seem unusual, but Yoder said the casual atmosphere and the diversity of people make it an easy place to talk about their religion.
“There are people who have a negative stereotype of us,” Yoder said. “This gives them a chance to talk about Islam one on one. It’s a casual atmosphere.”
Two Christian groups have now joined them at the fair. WhyIslam? sponsored its first booth in 2008. Amazing Grace Missions arrived in 2009 and William F. Smith in 2010, according to State Fair organizers.
The State Fair booth is only part of an effort in the Sacramento area to educate non-Muslims about the faith, said Yoder. ICNA, which focuses on outreach and education of Islam, is sponsoring a billboard campaign – 16 will appear in the region next month – coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan.
The group will also give 500 backpacks to needy children.
“Charity is an important part of our faith,” Yoder said.
He added that his faith does not proselytize but is seeking to educate others about Islam.
“Our goal is to build an interfaith dialogue and tolerance,” he said.
Visitors have been polite and Muslims have interesting talks with fairgoers of a variety of faiths, Yoder said. “Of course we have a handful of people who have been confrontational,” he said. “They are passionate about their beliefs.”
He said the volunteers will not argue with anyone.
State Fair officials said they have had no complaints about the WhyIslam? booth.
“Our No. 1 concern is public safety for the fairgoers and the vendors,” said Mary Ann Costamagna, director of the media center for the fair. “I have heard that they have been wonderful to work with.”
Article Courtesy: The Sacramento Bee