CAIRO - Amid growing sentiments against US Muslims and their religion, an outreach group is championing education as a tool to promote the true image of Islam and fight radicalization among young Americans.
Our ultimate goal is to educate our fellow Americans, Dr Sabeel Ahmed, 36, director of the Gain Peace Project, an Islamic outreach program in Chicago, told Medill Reports in an interview.
The objective is to educate people and to show them the peaceful principles of Islam. These are the essential parts of building a peaceful society.
Ahmed says that Americans know very little about Islamic teachings, leading many to discriminate against Muslims.
I believe it is fear of the unknown that gives rise to violence, hatred and discrimination, he said.
Lots of groups have been discriminated against throughout history, and we want to try and end that.
American Muslims, estimated between six to eight million, have been sensing growing hostility in recent years.
A US survey has revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.
A recent Gallup poll, however, found 43 percent of Americans Nationwide admitted to feeling at least a little prejudice against Muslims.
If people are educated about Islam, we can hopefully extract solutions to violence and other problems within society, said Ahmed.
We also want to defend religious freedom and help people to understand Shari`ah, he said.
Lawmakers in more than 20 states have introduced proposals forbidding local judges from considering Shari`ah when rendering verdicts on issues of divorces and marital disputes.
There are so many misconceptions about Shari`ah born from fear. This campaign goes against fear; no one should fear Islam, said Ahmed.
Gain Peace is a non-profit organization whose main goal is to educate the general public about Islam and to clarify many misconceptions they may hold.
To this effect, the group, which is part of the Islamic Circle of North America, has launched a free telephone line for Americans to ask questions related to Islam, request visits to mosques and order free Quran and Islamic literature.
Gain Peace is an outreach to make sure we educate fellow Americans about the faith of Islam to do away with misconceptions about the religion, Ahmed said.
We do many projects, including inviting fellow Americans into mosques, to fight the fear of the unknown surrounding our religion. We want to do away with that.
The Chicago Muslim leader says his group is also using education to fight radicalization among young American Muslims.
We do discuss how to live in harmony and peace with our fellow Americans, Ahmed said.
He says the group uses the weekly Friday sermons to discourage Muslims against violence and promote tolerance and peace.
The sermons talk about spirituality, morality, how to live a good life and how to live life as a Muslim in the United States.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was a part of a minority population his whole life, so when we talk in our sermons, we talk about using his example for living in tolerance and in peace, he said.
Ahmed says Gain Peace is also working within the Muslim community to prevent young Americans from turning to violence and radicalization.
It doesn't make the news when Muslims condemn terrorist acts or try to educate their people to avoid violence, he said.
There are lots of programs to educate people against violence in both mosques and at street level.
Ahmed's group uses the Noble Qur'an and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad to counter Al-Qaeda propaganda to recruit young Muslims.
The principles of peace are in the Qur'an and in the words of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, he said.
There are certain principles that we must live by, and most important among these is that we are forbidden from killing innocents.
We go over these things with our youth, to condemn acts of terrorism and violence, and to live a God-oriented, moral and spiritual life.
The Muslim leader also reiterated cooperation of the sizable minority with law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism.
Muslims have helped to identify many plots in the US, including the Times Square car-bombing plot, he said.We have always been willing to help, and we will help in whatever way law enforcement asks of us.