The food pantry occupies a storefront between a beauty salon and auto shop, a nondescript location off East Colfax Avenue that gives no indication the people volunteering inside symbolize a faith community in transition.

Shirley Anderson doesn’t know who is helping her, doesn’t notice the framed Arabic calligraphy or the headscarf worn by one woman. She certainly wouldn’t know that the name of the pantry, Ansar, is taken from an Arabic term for “helper.”

Anderson, 53, is focused on getting groceries to her Section 8 apartment and disabled husband.

What comes to mind when she thinks of Muslims?

“Suicide bombers in the name of Allah,” she said. “As far as I can tell, they are not very nice people.”

A few minutes later, she is going over a menu with Dr. Dilsher Nawaz, an Aurora cardiologist with a big laugh and a salt-and-pepper beard. Then she is out the door with a box filled with Froot Loops, tomato sauce, carrot cake and canned pears.

“These people, they are Islamic?” Anderson said. “It makes me think that not all of them are the same. You run into someone, it can open your heart and mind.”

As Colorado’s Muslim community grows and matures in a post-Sept. 11 world, scenes like this are becoming more commonplace. A new generation of Muslims with feet firmly in the U.S. is pushing greater engagement with the wider community through service projects and interfaith work.


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