NY: MUSLIM CENTER IN WHITE PLAINS LAUNCHES CLASSES FOR CONVERTS
There are no welcome wagons awaiting converts to Islam after they recite the "shahada," a declaration of faith made by new Muslims. The White Plains-based Muslim Education and Converts Center of America - or MECCA - wants to be that greeting committee.
The center, launched last year, has as its goal to create "rightly guided Muslim citizens," its Web site says.
"What it means to us is people who are moderate in their faith and don't take it to extremes, and people who feel comfortable as Muslims and Americans and don't feel a dichotomy between that hyphenated identity," said Scarsdale resident Thomas M. Wilentz, MECCA's president.
One example of the type of Muslim converts the group wants to avoid is John Walker Lindh, an American Muslim convert serving time in federal prison for fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"I wouldn't point him out as an example, but that sort of thing we're definitely trying to eliminate," said Wilentz, a Scarsdale resident who converted to Islam from Judaism about 20 years ago.
MECCA's outreach began last year with Saturday classes in a New York City mosque in midtown Manhattan. Its New Muslims Program is a three-month course focusing on Islamic belief, practice and way of life.
Mount Kisco resident Saleem Niazi, 25, a medical student, teaches the Saturday course at the Islamic Society of Mid-Manhattan at 154 E. 55th St. MECCA chose the Manhattan location because it is more centrally located to Muslims in the tri-state area than Westchester County, though the group eventually wants to offer classes in Westchester, New Jersey and other states.