Christina Cornejo, Lodi News-Sentinel
During Monday's 16th annual Celebration of Unity, Lodians had the opportunity to learn that taking steps towards tolerance of neighbors of other ethnicities and religions may mean asking more questions.
Hosted by the Breakthrough Project for Social Justice, the event serves as a way to spread a message of tolerance and understanding for area residents who may face discrimination and hate.
This year's event shifted focus from African Americans to Muslims, with the idea that just like people came together to support Martin Luther King Jr.'s quest to end racism, the community must come together again to end hatred towards others.
Two Muslim speakers explained to a 100-person crowd their experiences in dealing with ignorance about their faith, and dispelled some of the myths associated with Islam. ...
Another speaker, Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Sacramento office, greeted the crowd with the Arabic phrase "As-Salamu Alaykum" -- similar to greeting someone with "May peace be with you" in English.
In his work with CAIR, an organization created to dispel myths and stereotypes of Islam, Elkarra often deals with a lot of hatred toward Muslims.
"If I ever receive a hate call, I let them talk it out," he said.
One of his strategies in dealing with the hate is to concede that there have been Muslims who have done wrong, but then offers more information and the opportunity to learn more.
"A lot of people with hate calls call back later to ask questions. They just want to understand," he said.
Elkarra was born and raised in San Francisco and comes from a Palestinian background.
He prides himself on his interfaith background. Many of Elkarra's relatives practice different faiths, and for much of his life he attended Christian schools.
He said that once the Persian Gulf War began, there were a lot more misconceptions about his faith.
"One of the sisters said to me, 'Islam is a cult, because they all live in the same house,'" said Elkarra, who said he told the sister that this was incorrect.
The two speakers then took questions from the audience that allowed them to explain some of their similarities to non-Muslims in the community.
Elkarra explained that Muslims believe in all the prophets. He said Jesus Christ has a large role as a prophet in the Quran.