The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
March 31, 2002 | RICHARD COWEN, STAFF WRITER
PARAMUS — The small group of people who came to Garden State Plaza on Saturday to promote Islam didn’t know whether to expect apathy, hostility, or respect from shoppers.
They got a little bit of each.
On a day when yet another suicide bomb went off in Israel, this time in Tel Aviv, members of the Islamic Circle of North America set up an information table at a New Jersey shopping mall for the first time since Sept. 11. Although members said much had changed in their lives since then, the goal remained the same: to preach the truth about Islam.
They did not dodge the issue. Shortly before 11 a.m., the Islamic Circle set up its table in front of the entrance to Macy’s. The steady stream of shoppers couldn’t help but notice the large sign that read “What Does Islam Say About War?”
The sign explained that Islam justifies fighting in self-defense, in defense of the religion, and “on the part of those expelled forcibly from their home.” Other signs explained Islam’s recognition of Jesus as a prophet and the Biblical roots shared by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Among the women working at the table was Roxanne Dwork, 40, a Clifton resident who is a convert to Islam. Her father was Jewish and her mother was Catholic, but she said it was Islam, through the teachings of the prophet Mohammed, which made the most sense to her. “It was through reading the Koran that the pieces came together,” she said.
Two years ago, members of the Islamic Circle began working shopping malls in New Jersey trying to get their message out that Muslims shared the same virtues of peace and brotherhood as other faiths. The Islamic Circle temporarily suspended the program following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when tensions were running high against Muslims.
Saturday was the first time the Islamic Circle visited Garden State Plaza, and Dwork said shoppers appeared more reluctant to approach the table than they were in other malls before the attacks. However, they said the mall was cooperative in providing space.
Although members of the Islamic Circle were hard to miss, most shoppers hurried by without stopping. Most of the people who stopped were simply curious, taking literature and discussing theology.
“I like to keep an open mind about religion,” said Carolyn Fowlkes, 16, of Suffern N.Y. “I’m what you would call a `basic’ Christian. I don’t know much about Islam. But I do believe that we all worship the same God.”
Others stopped by to take issue with Islam, which they associate with violence in the name of religion.
“I’ve got to disagree with some of the things they say,” said Ernest Shelby of the Bronx. “The Bible does not teach war. Holy war is wrong.”
Jim Shues, 46, who converted to Islam two years ago, was one of about eight Muslims who took turns behind the table.
“What I like about Islam is the completeness of it,” he said. “I pray five times a day. I fast during the month of Ramadan. I take comfort that each day I am doing something in preparation for Judgment Day.”
Shues, of South Orange, was raised Episcopalian but says he was searching for a deeper faith when he learned about Islam from a co-worker at IBM. Shues said what troubled him about Christianity was the notion that Jesus was divine, and not just another prophet, like Mohammed. Shues said he was never able to reconcile the idea of there being one God with the Christian idea of the Holy Trinity. Five years ago, he converted to Islam.