Opportunities abound for learning about Islam


Historians say there has been a Muslim presence in America since our Colonial days: slaves brought from Africa were privately practicing their religion. But Islam remained basically beneath the public’s notice until the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.

Since then, there has been plenty of publicity about Islam and Muslims, but much of it has been bigoted and vicious. There are many opportunities, though, for local residents to seek for themselves information about the world’s second-largest religion and our neighbors who practice this faith.

Each year the Muslim Community Center of the Bay Area hosts open houses in Santa Clara. When I attended last November along with visitors from many different faiths, we were given a tour of the campus, which is located in a former Hewlett Packard plant: a school, men’s and women’s prayer halls, book store, study rooms, banquet hall, gym and offices.

This was during the annual “Haj,” a ritual pilgrimage to Mecca all Muslims are expected to take once in their lifetimes. After a delicious dinner of Mideastern cuisine, we were shown an informative National Geographic documentary explaining the custom of The Haj.

Later that month the South Valley Islamic Community hosted one of its periodic open houses at the San Martin Lion’s Club. After a complimentary dinner of dishes from Islamic cultures across the world, guests were addressed by Rod Cardoza, a former pastor of a San Jose church and current executive director of the Abrahamic Alliance International, an ecumenical agency working toward peace and poverty-relief.

The evening ended with a presentation of preliminary plans for the Cordoba Center, the future home of the SVIC. Neighbors were invited to pose questions and express concerns about the impact of the construction.

Season one of “All-American Muslim” has just completed its run. This reality-based show on the TLC network followed residents of Dearborn, Mich. as they led normal American lives while seeking to be true to their faith. Included in the cast of five families are a high school football coach, a deputy sheriff and a businesswoman. The show offers a look at customs, celebrations, misconceptions, conflicts and differences within and outside the community. Home improvement chain Lowe’s canceled its sponsorship of the program when the Florida Family Association pressured it to stop supporting “dangerous Muslim propaganda.”

Silicon Valley Reads is an annual program encouraging residents of Santa Clara County to read the same book at the same time and have a public discussion about it. This year two books by Muslim authors have been chosen.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, March 10, newspaper columnist Marty Cheek will interview Sumbul Ali-Karamali, author of “The Muslim Next Door: the Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing” at the Morgan Hill Public Library. In her book she describes growing up as a Muslim in a mainly Christian Southern California community and makes clear why people shouldn’t fear Muslims or their practice of Islam.

“Invoking Peace – Islamic Art Exhibit” is available for viewing through March 17 at the Euphrat Museum of Art on the campus of De Anza College in Cupertino. It emphasizes the diversity of Islamic art; exhibits include site-specific installations, calligraphy, paintings, sculpture and ceramics. Call (408) 864-5464 for details.

Muslim characters are even working their way into popular fiction. Chris Culver’s “The Abbey” (2011) has a main character that is a police detective. The reader sees his struggle as he fails to remain true to the teachings of his faith while trying to unravel the mystery of his niece’s death.

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