It was an early morning for Driss El Akrich. But armed with Moroccan green tea and joined by his wife, Amina, in front of a television set, it was a moment he had been eagerly anticipating.

President Barack Obama was in Cairo last month, giving a major speech to the Muslim world. The speech reverberated across the world to Springfield, home to about 300 Muslim families from 28 countries.

For El Akrich, a doctoral candidate in the public administration program at the University of Illinois at Springfield, Obama hit all the right notes: Speaking in a tone of respect; quoting the Quran, the Torah and the Bible; and even mentioning El Akrich’s native Morocco as the first country, in 1777, to publicly acknowledge the newly sovereign United States.

El Akrich, who came to the United States in 2002 as part of the Fulbright exchange program, says it’s an emerging moment for Springfield Muslims whose efforts are boosted by Obama.

“It was a change in paradigm,” El Akrich says one evening in the fellowship hall of the Islamic Center of Greater Springfield’s masjid, or mosque, on Stanton Avenue. “Rather than focusing on tension, (Obama) has shifted the focus on common interests and mutual respect.”

Local Muslims say stereotypes against them still persist: disdainful looks, sneering comments and water-cooler jokes. But they also note progress is being made as people of different faiths learn more about what Muslims believe, and as Muslims themselves get more involved in the community. (More)


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