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Tolerant Iowa Celebrates Muslim Hero

Published: 04/05/2013 12:18:12 PM GMT
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CAIRO - Bearing the name of an Algerian Muslim leader, the Iowa city of Alkader will welcome a delegation of Arab dignitaries to celebrate the memory of the renowned hero, offering a rare lifeline of tolerance that spans cont (more)

CAIRO - Bearing the name of an Algerian Muslim leader, the Iowa city of Alkader will welcome a delegation of Arab dignitaries to celebrate the memory of the renowned hero, offering a rare lifeline of tolerance that spans continents and centuries.

“Our audience is the people who are compassionate already,” Kathy Garms, 63, a retired human-resources administrator who is the driving force in the Abdelkader project, told New York Times on Saturday, May 4.

“But there are so many people who are ignorant or scared or even hateful. We just hope that once they get across the starting line, they will listen.”

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Located deep in the steep valley carved by the Turkey River, the town of Elkader sits most of the year in remote obscurity.

Having a small population 1,200 and no single traffic light, the community was first settled by Germans and Scandinavians with its religious life built around Catholic and Lutheran churches.

In the 19th century, the small city got the name of a Muslim hero, Abd el-Kader, who was renowned in the 19th century for leading Algeria's fight for independence and protecting non-Muslims from persecution.

This weekend, for the fifth year in a row, Elkader will welcome a delegation of Arab dignitaries to celebrate this rare lifeline of tolerance, spanning continents and centuries.

“In our increasingly tormented world Abd el-Kader — a true world hero — is ‘talking' today to a much broader audience about our shared values and on how humanity could and can prevail over all differences and prejudices,” Abdallah Baali, Algeria's ambassador to the United States and an annual participant in the forum, wrote in an e-mail.

The idea of the celebration sparked back in November 2008 when John W. Kiser, a Virginia author, published a biography of Kader, “Commander of the Faithful,” and wanted to hold a book-launch event in the namesake town.

Catching the idea, Garms and Kiser brainstormed the idea of starting an essay contest for local high school students and holding a forum to renew interest in Kader.

“Our point is to inject into the educational bloodstream another view of Islam,” she said.

“We need to balance the narratives that are constantly coming through the media. Fear and ignorance are a deadly combination.”

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Coming less than three weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, this year's celebration offered a challenge to the Abdelkader Education Project's forum, standing more than ever for an affirming encounter between the United States and Islam.

Yet, religious tolerance was still in the air in Alkader city proved by Bob Spielbauer, an Elkader native who won the essay contest in 2011, who rejected the narrative of stereotyping Muslims.

“It felt personal, I felt like they were attacking me,” he said.

“Because the project helped open my eyes. It helped give me a positive opinion of Muslims. It was like filling in a blank.”

As the forum prepares for its fifth year, Elkader displays historical artifacts about Algeria and Kader in both City Hall and the history museum. A local restaurant serves Algerian cuisine.

Matched sets of poles with the word for peace written in English, French, and Arabic, stand in Elkader and Mascara.

This weekend's visitors will include a prominent Egyptian Islamic artist, Ahmed Moustafa, and a film crew from Al Jazeera.

Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to from 7-8 million Muslims.

An earlier Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans Muslims are loyal to their country and optimistic about their future in the United States.

Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net




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