by Suzanne Khazaal
LOS ANGELES, California (May 22, 2011) – While controversy sparked over the change of venue from UCLA to USC for the 2011 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books held last month, fortunately for the volunteers of WhyIslam, the outreach project of ICNA Southern California Chapter, traffic flow to their booth was unhindered. In fact, their booth was one of the busiest at the festival this year.
“You guys had the busiest booth the whole weekend,” said Chris Clark, a volunteer for the festival. “You had a great amount of traffic and a great amount of engagement—it was really nice.”
The biggest highlight, according to volunteers, was the acceptance of Islam by an anonymous booth visitor. He came with hesitancy about converting to Islam, but after a long discussion with Imam Mustafa Umar, he was compelled to become Muslim.
Volunteers distributed more than 2,500 free copies of the Qur’an translated in English, Spanish and Farsi and more than 6,800 pamphlets in English and Spanish, covering various topics such as Jesus, women, hijab, terrorism, the Qur’an, concept of God and the Prophet Mohammad.
Mustafa, the Religious Director at the Islamic Center of Corona-Norco, believes ICNA is fulfilling a vast void left unmet by other organizations.
“It is informing people about what Islam really is. It’s giving them access to free literature, showing them the sincerity of Muslims and giving them an opportunity to learn,” said the local leader. “This is the best thing about WhyIslam.”
“It’s important for people to pick up a copy of the Qur’an and read it, to understand for [themselves] what Islam is really about,” said Kate Rivera, a festival visitor.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about what it is to be Muslim and Islam itself. Events like this help bridge a gap. It’s not just guys in goatees preaching Allah, you see a different dimension that the media portrays,” said Rivera. “So I think it’s really important for WhyIslam to be [at the festival]—especially for tolerance.”
It’s important for Muslims to be present and reaching out to people to help open up minds and free people’s thoughts, believes Tamika Jenkins, a booth visitor.
“I just came to get some pamphlets, but the more and more I talked to the gentleman [at the booth], it made light bulbs go off and got me more interested. I try to gain as much knowledge as I can to help me figure out what I’m doing here in this lifetime,” said Jenkins.