TEMECULA ---- Next month, 17-year-old Monsura Sirajee will receive a firsthand lesson in how state government works as part of a leadership conference for Islamic students held in Sacramento.
The high school senior hopes the conference will advance a cause that has recently become dear to her: the fight to prevent persecution of members of the religious group to which she belongs, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community.
It is an issue that Monsura said often flies under the radar and something she would like to change.
"I think if more people knew about it, more people would be inclined to help," said Monsura, who will start her senior year at Chaparral High School next month.
Members of the Ahmadiyya sect, known as Ahmadis, are considered heretical by some in the Muslim world because they believe that the movement's 19th-century founder is the "promised messiah," a belief that's outside of traditional Islamic teaching.
Pakistan officially declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974. In recent years, Amnesty International has raised concerns about the safety of Ahmadis in countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan, citing attacks and threats against Ahmadis.
Though Monsura's parents are natives of Bangladesh, she grew up in Riverside County. Monsura considered herself a typical Muslim, and most people accepted her faith. It was only a few years ago that Monsura started reading about the feelings of some Muslims toward Ahmadis, which she said shocked her.
Monsura said her desire to draw attention to the plight of Ahmadis influenced her recent decision to apply to attend the annual Muslim Youth Leadership Project, held by the California branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Of about 100 students who applied to attend the conference, Monsura was one of 35 selected, said Munira Syeda, a spokeswoman for the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the council.
The conference, which starts Aug. 14 in Sacramento and is in its fourth year, includes workshops on issues such as the importance of the media. The highlight is a mock legislature that students participate in as a way to learn how the democratic system works, Syeda said. (MORE)