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As Muslims in America begin observing their faith’s holiest month – Ramadan
– many will have more than fasting on their minds.

A new poll finds that one in four Americans holds negative stereotypes of
Muslims. Many agree with statements that Muslims teach their children to
hate and that they value life less than others outside the faith.

Local Muslim leaders are disappointed with the findings.

“I knew that there was obviously a negative perception and anti-Muslim
sentiments in the country, but I was very surprised by the results,” said
Ahmed Bedier, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic
Relations in Tampa.

“However, there was some hope in it. In the poll, it showed that those who
actually interacted with Muslims or knew them, over 50 percent had positive

As believers observe this year’s Ramadan, they are being urged to combat
negative stereotypes…

This Ramadan, mosques are being asked to hold open houses for members of
other faiths and to invite non-Muslims to the traditional evening meals
that break their dawn-to-dusk fast.

Individual members of the Muslim community also are being encouraged to
identify themselves to neighbors and colleagues and to talk openly about
their faith. In Jacksonville, a company has created a Ramadan postcard that
can be used to send goodwill greetings to non-Muslims.

Locally, the Tampa Bay Area Muslim Association had a public pre-Ramadan
gathering Wednesday in St. Petersburg. The Islamic Society of the Tampa Bay
Area held an annual open house last weekend at its large Tampa mosque.

In Hernando County, Dr. Adel Eldin, a Spring Hill cardiologist, said
Muslims plan to ask others in the community to join them for an evening
break-the-fast meal, or iftar, during Ramadan. He said the community began
distributing Ramadan-Thanksgiving baskets after the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks. Eldin added that Hernando Muslims also offer programs in
local schools about Ramadan.

“Those of us who consider ourselves to be devout Muslims and also consider
ourselves to be American patriots have to do a better job of communicating
to the American population in general that we are, in fact, part of the
same society, country and diverse American culture,” said Askia Muhammad
Aquil, an imam, or prayer leader, from St. Petersburg.

“We have to do everything to dispel the myth that Islam is anti-West,
anti-Christian or anti-Jewish”¦


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