FL: MUSLIM CHOSEN TO LEAD INTERFAITH ALLIANCE
OCALA - Larry Collins was installed recently as president of The Interfaith Alliance of Marion County. He is the first Muslim to hold the office.
Collins grew up an Army brat. He served in the Air Force and did a year in Vietnam. He has undergraduate degrees, in history and English, and a juris doctorate - all from the University of Florida. He worked on farms in college, so he decided to take up equine law. Collins is a devout Muslim and has been since 1966.
At a hefty 6 feet 3 inches, Collins is a formidable man, an intellectual who studies the Quran in Arabic and Max Weber's essays on the Protestant ethic in German.
His agenda is no secret.
"It's not just a question of tolerating people of other beliefs," Collins said of the alliance's mission. "It's more of an acceptance of people of different beliefs - and a recognition that if they hold those beliefs, we just have to give them that right, because they have a basis for what they believe, and I can't assume, being just a guy, that their basis is wrong."
The Rev. Dale Stewart is a founding member and former president of the Marion County chapter of the alliance. He believes Collins' dedication will be an asset to the organization.
"I've seen him outside painting a sign at the Islamic Center," Stewart said. "He is very dedicated in his faith. He does whatever is necessary."
According to Collins, five years ago, Riadh Fakhoury - a local chiropractor who is the president of the Islamic Center of Ocala and an Interfaith Alliance board member - approached him about getting involved. Fakhoury wanted members of the Muslim community to have a stronger presence within the organization.
Collins agreed and has been active in the organization since 2002. He was installed as alliance president on Jan. 22. He is a regular speaker about topics concerning Islam.