The place where Adeeba Al-Zaman works daily is a spare gray office with a conference room that doubles as a place to pray.
Al-Zaman works phones, sends e-mails, and stuffs envelopes – all in an effort to lift the voice of the local Muslim community. She is the one-woman staff of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). At the age of 23, she is in the middle of a whirlwind.
The publication of cartoons, first in a Danish newspaper, has angered Muslims around the world, prompting protests that in some cases have turned violent. That issue touched even closer to home for local Muslims on Feb. 4, when The Inquirer published one of the cartoons, a caricature that shows Muhammad with a bomb in his turban.
Since then, Al-Zaman has been at the forefront of much of the local Muslim community’s response to the issue. Al-Zaman has set up news conferences and film screenings. She has moderated panel discussions, met with Inquirer editors, and written an op-ed piece for the newspaper.
“We were offended and hurt and think they shouldn’t have done it,” Al-Zaman said of The Inquirer’s publication of the cartoon. CAIR has condemned the violence that has resulted.
A note accompanying the drawing said that the paper meant no disrespect to readers, but The Inquirer published the cartoon because the newspaper’s mission is to inform readers even in cases when that information is “troubling,” said Inquirer editor Amanda Bennett.
Since the publication, CAIR Philadelphia has been working toward “building bridges” with local media and becoming a resource for information, Al-Zaman said. The work has also helped trigger a personal transformation.
“You can’t defend someone else’s rights if you don’t do it for yourself, know yourself and know God,” Al-Zaman said. “I’ve been developing a relationship with God and I do it by reading the text.”
CAIR has only been in Philadelphia since September 2004. Its founding is part of an effort to build an infrastructure of Muslim groups and develop leaders who can advocate Muslim causes and be a part of interfaith dialogue, said Sofia Memon, vice chairwoman of CAIR Philadelphia’s board of directors.