Halfway through his yearlong term as chairman of Riverside's Human Relations Commission, Omar Zaki made a pitch to business leaders.
Embrace diversity -- it can be good for your bottom line, he told the audience at August's Good Morning Riverside, a monthly gathering organized by the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce and held at the Mission Inn.
A company with a diverse workforce can tap into markets with which it may not have had experience, Zaki said.
"Social capital equates to economic growth," he told the audience.
As a Muslim in post-Sept. 11, 2001, America, Zaki knows better than many Riverside residents the value of an inclusive society.
It's been his goal for years.
Zaki, whose family is from Egypt, has long invited non-Muslims to participate in Muslim celebrations, such as Ramadan, to understand better what Islam is about.
He was so worried about the way the terrorist attacks affected how Muslim Americans were perceived that he spent two years between 2003 and 2005 as director of governmental affairs for the Southern California chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, a nonprofit civil-rights group.
"There was such a gap" in understanding between the non-Muslim community in the United States and the Muslim community, Zaki said.
Islam has more than 1 billion adherents worldwide but it's the extremists who have spoken for them in recent years, he said.
The Sept. 11 attackers are not representative of the majority of Muslims, Zaki said.
"Most Muslims, including myself, look at what they did as sinful," he said.
Now as Human Relations Commission chairman, he is working to increase understanding among all racial, ethnic and religious groups in the city. (MORE)