Know Your Muslim Neighbor
|Location: Freeman Library
16616 Diana Ln
Houston, TX 77062
Date: Saturday, June 11, 2016
Time: 1 PM - 4 PM
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Local Muslims reach out to foster understanding
By Allen Jones
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Local Islamic groups are seeking to educate local residents on what it means to be Muslim.
Local Muslims see the efforts as critical, coming at a time when debate on their role in American society has become
part of the presidential race, with Republican candidate Donald Trump calling for a temporary moratorium on
Muslims entering the country.
Adding to the urgency are incidents in which people claiming ties to Islam conduct terrorist acts, such as a lone
gunman's June 12 attack on an Orlando, Florida, nightclub that killed 49 people and injured 52.
"It has become more important to reach out to the public and define ourselves before others define us," said
Mohamed Shalaby, a cardiologist with a medical practice in Webster who is a member of the Clear Lake Islamic
Center, 17511 El Camino Real, and of the Houston chapter of the Muslim American Society.
"What we (in the society) have found is that those who have the opportunity to know a Muslim neighbor or a Muslim
co-worker or colleague, they have very positive views of Muslims based on their personal experiences," he said. "But
the overwhelming majority, statistics say at least 70 percent of Americans, have never met a Muslim or anyone that
identifies as a Muslim."
That means the only information many people may receive about Muslims is from news media reports of terrorism,
Shalaby said. Islamophobia, he said, is due to a mix of misinformation, confusion and fear about the security of the
United States because of threats from radical Islamic groups.
Nearly 320 people filed into a conference room of the Hilton Houston NASA Clear Lake hotel June 11 for a free meal
hosted as part of an outreach effort by the Houston chapter of the society and sponsored by the Clear Lake Islamic
Center. The center has held the dinner for three years.
Library hosts 'Know Your Muslim Neighbor'
"The purpose is to get communities from different backgrounds all together and create an environment of friendship
and build relations," said Shalaby, who heads the committee that plans the annual dinner.
The event is held during Ramadan, a monthlong observance of fasting and prayer intended to help Muslims grow
closer to God. Shalaby said Ramadan, a time of reflection and gratitude, is the perfect time to strengthen community
"The spirit of (Ramadan) is to be charitable and spiritual in all of our relations and family ties," he said, adding that
most people may have heard of the observance but know only "pieces and bits" of what it means to Muslims.
Invited to the meal were area municipal and county officials, law enforcement officers, firefighters, business owners
and other community leaders. All 250 available spots for the dinner quickly filled up, Shalaby said, and the guest list
swelled to 320 names.
Earlier that day, an MAS-sponsored event called "Know Your Muslim Neighbor" was held at Harris County Public
Library system's Freeman branch. The public was invited to learn about Muslim-Americans and their U.S. roots that
trace to the 1700s.
"We have events throughout the year," Shalaby said.
Center joins in interfaith activities
Among its community outreach initiatives, the Islamic center regularly hosts an open house so the public can learn
about the religion, tour a mosque and ask questions they may have in an "open, welcoming environment," said
Sonia Qureshi, an outreach coordinator at the center.
The center also takes part in community service projects, often in collaboration with its neighbor, the Bay Area
Unitarian Universalist Church. The two organizations have participated in an annual trash cleanup initiative, the
annual Bay Area Turning Point Fill-the-Truck event that raises money for a women's and children's shelter and other
The church's minister, the Rev. Bruce Beisner, said he enjoys getting to know his Muslim neighbors and that doing
so fits his congregation's interfaith mission. Shalaby is a member of the church's Speakers and Events Committee.
And the Islamic center's imam, Waleed Basyouni, speaks at one of the church's Sunday services, which members of
the Islamic Center also have attended. And after the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris, the church held a rally in support
of its Muslim neighbors.
Between the Islamic Center and the local chapter of the Muslim American Society, other outreach programs include
interfaith activities held with congregations of other faiths around the area. The society operates MAS Give, a program
held in conjunction with the Houston Food Bank that distributes food to needy families. And the society offers Boy
Scout and Girl Scout programs, Shalaby said, as a means to instill their Muslim youth with strong American identities.
"That becomes a protection to them from the radical ideas (of terrorist organizations attempting to recruit Muslim
youths) and strengthens their self-confidence so that they are not intimidated by negative messages they may face
outside," Shalaby said.
The Islamic Center is hosting its annual social picnic, "Meet, Greet and Eat," Sept. 25. Time and location are to be
"I would say that what we are doing really stems from our belief that being good a Muslim mandates that you become
a good citizen, a good neighbor, a good member of your community regardless of what others are thinking of you,"
Discrimination incidents vary
Nationwide, there has been a backlash against Muslims. The Council on American-Islamic Relations maintains a
list of incidents on its website.
Shalaby said he hasn't experienced serious discrimination.
"In my personal experience, and it might be different from others, I think it depends on where you are and who you
are," he said. "I am in Houston, and I think this is a very diverse community, and people have an appreciation of
He and his wife are from Egypt. The two went to medical school together and moved to the Houston area 22 years
ago. They have six children.
He said he does have friends, especially women who cover their heads with scarfs called hijabs, and children who
have experienced discrimination.
He said two years ago, a 14-year-old girl he knows was competing in a regional science fair in Houston. While
presenting in front of judges, she was asked questions to explain her experiment. A male judge came up to her
when she was finished and asked if she was Indian because of the head scarf she was wearing.
After the girl said she was not Indian and that she is Muslim, the judge then asked the middle school student if
Muslims were the ones who kill everyone who does not belong to their religion. Shalaby said the student reported the
judge to school officials, and the incident was addressed.
Islamic State threatens imam at Clear Lake
Shalaby pointed out that many of those killed by terrorists purporting to represent Islam are Muslims.
According to a 2011 report by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, in incidents in which religious affiliation of
terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 percent and 97 percent of terrorism-related
deaths during the preceding five years.
In April, the terrorist group Islamic State named the Clear Lake center's imam, Basyouni, a Houston-born scholar, to
its hit list because he denounces violence.
"Those who commit acts of violence against other human beings are definitely not coming from a Muslim
perspective of how we see things," Shalaby said. "Actually, we think they are anti-Muslim in their way of thinking and
behaving. Terrorists kill much more Muslims than they kill anyone else. If they really cared about Islam, they wouldn't
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