Once Sofian Abdelaziz Zakkout gets going on the subject of bridging gaps between South Florida Muslims and other community groups, it’s apt to be a long conversation.

Zakkout, who heads the Miami Beach-based American Muslim Association of North America, is passionate about bringing together Muslims and non-Muslims.

So when the 50-year-old Palestinian immigrant planned the organization’s third annual festival and barbecue, he decided it should be held not at a mosque or Islamic center as in previous years, but at a public park where members of all faiths and groups would feel welcome.

The gathering Sunday at Topeekeegee Yugnee Park in Hollywood drew several hundred people, including representatives of law enforcement, military branches and community organizations.

“Today we are breaking the ice,” Zakkout declared from behind a table displaying pamphlets with titles such as Common Questions on Islam and Muslims and Human Rights in Islam.

Zakkout said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 created suspicion and misunderstanding of his religion that should be addressed through outreach, not shied away from.

“We are trying our best to bring people together,” said Zakkout, who moved to the United States from Kuwait in 1977.


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