EAST GRAND RAPIDS — The next time East Grand Rapids Officer Gary Parker
sees a woman in traditional Islamic clothing, he will know what to say.

“‘Salaam alaikum (pronounced sa-lam a-like-um),’ which means ‘Peace be with
you,'” explained Karen Henry, a third-generation Arab-American, whose
grandparents came from Lebanon and Syria.

During an Arab-Islamic sensitivity workshop for the department’s officers
— the first in Kent County — Parker recalled seeing an Arabic family in
Collins Park. The wife was wearing traditional clothing. Very little of her
face or body was showing.

He conceded he was uncomfortable. But, as a black police officer, he wanted
to get past that.

“If I had had to deal with that couple, I would have had a very hard time,”
he said.

“The Arabs who dress that way are doing so out of very strong convictions,”
Henry said. “They will wear the head-covering in opposition to the western
culture. A lot of them believe our western values are in the toilet.”

In a talk that Public Safety Director Peter Gallagher called “very
practical” and “a working understanding for police officers,” Henry
explained the basics.

Not all Arabs are Muslims. Some Arab-Americans, like Henry, are Christian.
Not all Muslims are from the Middle East, she said. Many Muslims hail from
Africa, or they can be Americans who have converted


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