CAIRO - Helping young Muslims understand their identity and find a place in society, a leading American Muslim organization has held a conference in Tampa city on the west coast of Florida to focus on challenges and opportunities facing Muslim youth in the west.
"This program was important to strengthen their identity and make them proud of who they are," Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Florida, told The Tampa Tribune.
"We are trying to break the false narrative expressed by anti-Muslim extremists," he added after the session.
The conference, the second such meeting in the past two years, was sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America on Saturday, June 29.
Held in the light of recent events and frequent misconceptions about Muslims, the event, themed The American Muslim Identity: Challenges to Opportunities, will focus on addressing the difficulties Muslims face.
It would also discuss practical and positive solutions to counteract different forms of extremism.
It was urged to face increasing bullying and assaults on Muslims for practicing their religion or simply for identifying themselves as Muslim.
Shibly, who moderated the session, said he has spoken with many Muslim adolescents and teenagers about the difficulty of hearing hurtful words and dealing with violent attacks.
The conference brought together Muslims from Southeastern states, with many of them Tampa Bay area residents.
He conference comes ahead of the annual national convention planned next September in Washington DC by the Islamic Society of North America, said the organization's executive director, Ahmed M. Elhattab.
The annual convention has alternated between Washington and Chicago. Other cities - Elhattab mentioned Orlando and Detroit - have shown interest in hosting the even
Guest speakers at the conference suggested ways to build character, strengthen self-esteem and be proud Muslims.
"If I didn't have Batman and Superman in my life, I would not have recognized the messenger of God," said Moutasem Atiya of Baltimore, a father of three.
Atiya added that his appreciation of superheroes Batman and Superman helped him grow in his Muslim faith.
He said the fictional superheroes "live" by three principles he admires: morality, sacrifice and making the right choices.
"Clark Kent had morals; he had a defining line of morality," Atiya said.
"You have to live it (life) with morality."
Another guest speaker, Jenan Kurdi of Tampa, stressed the importance of being accountable as Muslims and learning to live by Allah's laws.
"Each one of us are responsible," Kurdi, a 2002 University of South Florida graduate with a bachelor's degree in biology education and mathematics, said.
"You just have to get up and do it. ... You have to take that first step for yourself."
Since 9/11, US Muslims, estimated between six to eight million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was targeting their faith.
A report by CAIR, the University of California and Berkeley's Center for Race and Gender said that Islamophobia in the US is on the rise.
A US survey had also revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.
A recent Gallup World Religion Survey found that 53% of Americans see Islam "not too favorable" or worse; a much higher percentage than expressed negative feelings about other major religions.