Highway travelers driving past the hulking mosque on I-75 see the metallic gold dome, the 135-foot-tall minarets and the intricate stained-glass windows. The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo makes some people curious. For others, it conjures up stereotypes fueled by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and the Iraq War.

Imam Farooq Aboelzahab wishes they all would stop in, ask questions and see the mosque and Muslim ways for themselves.

“We need to talk about Islam and show Islam to others,” he said. “We feel responsible to reach out, be with the people and show what we have in common.”

Aboelzahab and others at the mosque are part of an enthusiastic outreach program. Its mission is to show outsiders that Muslims are just like them: Americans with families who care about safety and community.

Mosque leaders across the state say they’re doing public relations work more than ever. It’s necessary to counter all the negative stereotypes of Muslims that have popped up since Sept. 11, they say.

So they open the doors to the mosques, offer traditional Muslim food at community picnics and visit their neighbors who might be leery of them.

Muslim leaders say educating others always has been a part of Islam. But it’s increasingly necessary in light of Sept. 11, the subsequent wars and high-profile arrests such as that of Christopher Paul, the North Side man accused of training al-Qaida terrorists. Paul is a convert to Islam.

One Columbus Muslim leader, Adnan Mirza, said Paul’s arrest made him think, “Here we go again.”

Negative news related to Islam “helps promote dialogue, but you spend a great portion of that dialogue fending off the attacks and fending off a lot of stereotypes about Islam,” said Mirza, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Columbus.

Muslims say too many people believe Islam is a violent religion that fosters terrorism and is oppressive to women. They try to show that neither of these stereotypes is true.


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