If only Anna Nicole Smith had been the subject of Sunday’s Muslim community forum, TV cameras would have swarmed the room at Widener University’s School of Law.

That humorous observation was offered by Dr. Mazhar Rishi, a lifelong Muslim and chief of pathology at St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, to highlight the absence of cameras, saying that when Muslims explain the peaceful tenets of their faith, it’s not always possible to draw media attention.

It was a point that interested many of the more than 60 audience members attending the forum, given that people said they seldom hear the violence of extremists denounced.

It’s true that Muslims need to do more speaking against violence, Rishi said, but the media need to help by providing a platform for American Muslims. The country’s Muslim population is estimated to number between 6 million and 8 million, said Dr. James Stephenson, a physician at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center and a Muslim since 1986.

Rishi and Stephenson were joined by fellow Muslims John Pavloff, an assistant district attorney in Chester County, Pa., and Sofia Ali-Khan, a staff attorney at Community Legal Service in Philadelphia and a board member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“I am glad to see this because there are a lot of misconceptions about the faith,” said Alie Basma of Bear, a Muslim whose family comes from Lebanon and West Africa. “I think there is a perception that all Muslims are angry and want to fight.”

He was glad to see the topic of jihad explained as a struggle with one’s weaknesses, within oneself or with problems in a community. As panel members explained, war is a lesser type of jihad and cannot be legitimately called by a terrorist such as Osama bin Laden, who has no religious authority. In fact, the killing of innocent people is a profound sin, Rishi said.

After the 9/11 attacks, Ali-Kahn said, discrimination rose in the greater Philadelphia region, and travelers began to think twice about packing the Quran when flying.


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