Standing in front of Muslim high school students, Ahmed Rehab asked the girls at Universal School in Bridgeview what non-Muslims might think when they see them at the shopping mall in their hijabs, or headscarves.
"Terrorists, crazy, oppressed," the students shouted.
"Where did they get those stereotypes?" he asked.
It's human nature to be afraid of what you don't understand, and that fear and misunderstanding can lead to stereotypes, he said.
"I know a ... stereotype," Rehab said. "(A woman who wears a hijab) is more likely to be a good student, likely to be in college and one of the most committed students. She's likely not to drink, use drugs or steal your credit card and use it.
"She's more likely to be good to her parents and siblings and neighbors. It's a positive one if only people knew. How are they going to know if you don't show yourself?"
Rehab and Yaser Tabbara, CAIR's national director of development, led a leadership training seminar Wednesday to help students define themselves as Muslim Americans and fight stereotypes. The two men developed the Muslim Youth Leadership Symposium, which they hope to launch nationwide.
As part of the workshop, students develop social service projects rooted in the values of Islam to help promote a positive image.
"Each and every one of them are inspired to serve the community and grow as individuals and leaders of tomorrow," Assistant Principal Hanan Abdallah said.
The projects ran the gamut: visiting hospitals and nursing homes, working with orphans, making documentaries about Muslim life, developing a pen pal program with students in other schools.
The students said they felt inspired and more informed after the workshop. (MORE)