Non-Muslims to share Ramadan
Group issuing dinner invitations to better relations
Arsalan Bukhari loves to visit Canada, but rarely does because he doesn't like waiting for hours while officers search his belongings. Some of his buddies with coveted jobs at Microsoft can't make connecting flights because airport security stops them for questioning.
"I personally feel violated when they go through my car and my backpack," said Bukhari, a Muslim. "We're painted against these crazy, angry guys living on the fringe."
Bukhari's sentiments come at a time of growing fear in the community of Arab-Americans, Muslim-Americans and people of South Asian heritage. That fear was stoked even more last month when federal authorities released photographs of two men, apparently of Middle Eastern descent, who authorities said were acting suspiciously aboard Washington State Ferries.
Now members of the community are fighting back -- with politeness.
Bukhari and others from the Council on American-Islamic Relations are hosting a traditional dinner on Wednesday at the Islamic School of Seattle, and have invited city and state leaders to try to increase understanding of Islam. The meal will break Muslims' fasting during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that began Thursday.
Local FBI agents have said they'll attend. So have labor union representatives and members of the World Affairs Council. But Bukhari said people don't need a fancy title to be welcomed.
"We want to meet them, shake hands and have them realize that we're just normal people," he said.
Bukhari, 27, who graduated with a degree in finance from Seattle University, became Washington president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. And according to a study by the national CAIR, Bukhari is among 62 percent of American Muslims who have obtained at least a bachelor's degree.
Several Muslims said that Americans have grown more knowledgeable about Ramadan, which includes fasting during daylight hours and a focus on charity, forgiveness and other virtues.
"In my younger days, I had to explain it to them," said Bellevue resident Rizwan Samad, 47, owner of a travel agency. "Now, especially since 9/11, there's been so much publicity."
His friends joke that President Bush has been good for Islam by bringing attention to their religion
"A lot more people are trying to learn what Islam is, because there's so much negative talk in the media," Samad said. "The good thing about American people is, they like to know. They like to study."
So do American Muslims, according to CAIR. A 2006 survey of Muslims showed 89 percent voted and about as many celebrate the Fourth of July. More than 40 percent said they volunteer for institutions serving the public, compared with 29 percent of all Americans in 2005, according to the council.
Many Muslims will celebrate nightly during Ramadan by going to a mosque, eating a communal meal with friends, then returning to the mosque.
Muslim students at the University of Washington plan to break their daily fast by meeting most weeknights for a community meal in the student union building. They usually eat pizza or "whatever somebody's mom makes," said Kiki Rizki, 21, a senior and an officer in the Muslim Student Association.
"Definitely, it's the best time of the year," said Khaled Abdel-Motagaly, 38, a Muslim and Boeing flight control engineer. "In many respects, it's getting close to Allah, getting close to Muslims and non-Muslims."
CAIR has also organized two other Ramadan dinners -- one Sept. 29 in Kirkland and another in Bellevue on Oct. 8. In touting the events, Bukhari cited a study saying 70 percent of non-Muslims develop a positive opinion after spending time with them.
"We think that will continue," he said.
And Bukhari, who has friends in Canada, said he hopes that efforts to show Muslims in a positive light will help them cross borders -- without holdups.
TRADITIONAL RAMADAN DINNERS
To register for one of the three Ramadan dinners organized by the Washington branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, call 206-367--4081 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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