CAIRO - Extending their hands to their neighbors, Muslims in the central American state of Illinois have met with their neighbors from different faiths and groups, correcting media misconceptions and offering a more in-depth view of Islam.
"We need to move way from stereotypes that have been assigned to groups in our community," Elgin Mayor David Kaptain said at the beginning of the event, the Daily Herald reported.
The event, held on Sunday Elgin Community College, was attended by a group of people earnestly searching for answers about Islam.
Jacki Bakker, of Carpentersville, wanted to learn more about Islam, which is her daughter-in-law's religion and now her son's.
Lyn Humbrack, a member of Elgin's First Congregational Church, has heard plenty of stereotypes about Muslims on TV but wanted to know the facts.
Titled, "Who Is My Muslim Neighbor?", the event was organized by the Coalition of Elgin Religious Leaders and the Elgin Human Relations Commission.
Being present for answers about their faith, Muslim members wanted to foster tolerance by broadening the community's understanding of Islam.
The event was attended by Gerald Hankerson, outreach coordinator for the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Hankerson said Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world, pointing to population research that shows most Muslims living in the United States are African Americans or South Asians, while the vast majority of Arab-Americans are Christian.
He stressed the idea that Islam is a religion of peace.
In smaller groups, attendees like Bakker and Humbrack had the chance to learn more about Islam from representatives of the Institute of Islamic Education, a school in Elgin that draws Islamic scholars from across the country.
Offering true information about Islam, Muslim guests corrected misconceptions about women in Islam, drawing a distinction between religion and culture.
"There's this misconception that women are oppressed by the religion and that is absolutely not true," Miriam Fadel, a teacher at Elgin Academy, said.
Fadel confirmed that Islam gives full rights to Muslim women, pointing that current prime ministers of Bangladesh and Mali are Muslim, as is the president of Kosovo.
He added that oldest continually operating institution of higher learning on the planet was founded by a Muslim woman.
Fadel was speaking about Fatima al-Fihri, who founded Al-Karaouine mosque that developed into a place for religious instruction and political discussion.
The mosque was expanded later by Al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy Moroccan man, to teach natural sciences and become the first university in the world in the year 859.
Ahsan Syed, a graduate of Bartlett High School and student at IIE, offered better ideas to engage Muslims and stop cycles of discrimination.
"It's true that if you want to get to know something you have to get to know the people," Syed said.
"Any Muslim you know, knowing them at the personal level is a good place to start."
The United States is home to a Muslim community of between six to eight million.
A recent Gallup poll had found that the majority of US Muslims are patriot and loyal to their country and are optimistic about their future.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net