CAIRO - Seeking to correct misconceptions about their religion, Muslims in the central US state of Illinois have invited their neighbors of different faiths to give them a better view of Islam.
"We need to move way from stereotypes that have been assigned to groups in our community," Elgin Mayor David Kaptain was quoted as saying by the Daily Herald.Muslim leaders have hosted a meeting with their neighbors of other religions to help answer their questions about Islam and Muslims.
Themed Who Is My Muslim Neighbor?", the event was organized by the Coalition of Elgin Religious Leaders and the Elgin Human Relations Commission.
The event brought together scores of people, including Jacki Bakker, of Carpentersville, who 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, also attended to verify stereotypes about Muslims.
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 Muslim scholars from across the country.
The event was attended by Gerald Hankerson, outreach coordinator for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Hankerson said Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world.
He noted that most Muslims living in the United States are African Americans or South Asians, while the vast majority of Arab-Americans are Christians.
The CAIR leader stressed the idea that Islam is a religion of peace.
Drawing a distinction between religion and culture, organizers have also sought to correct misconceptions about the status of women in Islam.
"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 said Islam gives full rights to Muslim women, pointing out that current prime ministers of Bangladesh and Mali are Muslims.
He added that the 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.