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Getting the Word Out on Islam

Education: A Muslim group hopes to combat myths, misinformation with a national book campaign modeled after a local grass-roots effort.

September 10, 2002|RANDY TRICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Using a successful Southern California program as a model, an Islamic advocacy group launched a campaign Monday to combat myths and misinformation about Muslims that many believe have become more prevalent since Sept. 11.

The yearlong effort will fight inaccurate information by donating books, videos and DVDs with unbiased information to libraries across the nation, said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"Most books written [about Islam] are inaccurate," Awad said. "We believe that the serious lack of information about Islam is causing our nation to be divided."

The national campaign, in which the public can purchase a package of 18 books and videotapes for donation to a local library, is a response to attacks against the Muslim religion and a heightened curiosity in the faith since Sept. 11, Awad said.

The council's Southern California chapter began a similar project last year, before the terrorist attacks, largely because local libraries did not have books that Muslim parents could use to teach their children about their faith. Instead, the parents found books full of inaccuracies.

"The parents wanted to pull the books from the libraries, and we said, 'Absolutely not,' " said Hussam Ayloush, director of the Anaheim-based chapter. "Instead, we wanted to provide the libraries with accurate books."

The grass-roots campaign was able to donate about 740 items to the Los Angeles County library system, said Peter Persic, the library's public information director. He noted a definite increase in demand for materials relating to the issues surrounding the terror attacks.

"There has always been a steady and strong interest in Islam, and it has always been hard to keep materials stocked," Persic said. "Once new materials arrive, they fly off the shelf."

The national campaign will work much like the California campaign; anyone, Muslim or not, may purchase the package from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (at www.cair-net.org/libraryproject) for donation to a local library. Donors can designate a library or let the organization choose one. The cost of each package is $150.

According to Ayloush, the Southern California program was successful; 166 libraries received 2,500 items, he said.

The national campaign hopes to provide 16,000 libraries with the books and tapes.

Since Sept. 11, the Muslim community has seen a rise in attacks against the Islamic faith, rather than against violent extremists, militants or fundamentalists, said Ibrahim Hooper, the council's communications director. Other religions don't share that situation, he said.

"When someone wants to go to a mosque in Hebron and massacre worshippers, you're not going to say, 'That's Judaism,' because you know what Judaism is. When the [Irish Republican Army] blows up pubs in Northern Ireland, of course you say, 'That's obviously not Catholicism,' " Hooper said. "But people don't know what Islam is."

One book included in the package, "Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People," examines how the media portray the Islamic faith. The book's author, Jack G. Shaheen, helped launch the campaign Monday.

"In American cinema, the only good Arab Muslim is a dead Arab Muslim," Shaheen said.

Having Hollywood and other pop-culture outlets display the Islamic faith fairly is especially critical in shaping children's understanding of the culture, he said.

Other books in the package include the Koran, in both Arabic and English; explanations of the text; two documentaries about Islam from PBS and ABC News; a history of mosque architecture; and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam."

In Southern California, Ayloush hopes the new national campaign will further boost his local program.

"It's always easier and more efficient for a local chapter to reach out to the local community," he said. "The national office will initiate the momentum, and the local chapter will follow through."

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