Muslim outreach continues with upcoming event

The Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana wants to help local residents understand what true Muslims really believe — and that they are peaceful, law-abiding citizens.

That reminder is in the wake of a Somali-born Muslim student’s attack injuring 11 people Monday at Ohio State University.

Abdul Razak Ali Artan was not known to FBI counterterrorism authorities before Monday’s rampage, a car-and-knife attack which ended with the suspect being shot to death by police, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. Eleven people were injured, police said.

Law enforcement officials have not identified a motive for the Ohio State violence but have suggested terrorism as a possibility.

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The 150-member local society has been focusing on an educational theme since late last year as national and international terror-related killings unfolded via the Islamic State group.

Local Muslims have organized an informal event, Ask a Muslim, at 10 a.m. Dec. 10 in front of The Commons, 300 Washington St., which was set up before the Ohio State shootings.

The free gathering will feature about 10 Islamic residents and could last two to three hours, depending upon people’s interest, said Hanna Omar, vice president of the Islamic Society.

“This will allow us to present a light, human touch,” Omar said. “Not everyone feels totally comfortable in a more formal, serious environment of a forum.”

This year, Omar has mentioned that the society wanted to find ways to be more proactive than reactive about Islam.

Emailed messages and posters promoting the event include the message, “We are your neighbors, coworkers, classmates and fellow residents of this great country. We invite you to come and join us for a fun morning of tolerance, understanding and strengthening community ties.”

Omar mentioned that some local Muslims feel that non-Muslims still may be hesitant to interact with society members.

“There are still people who do not understand who we are as a community,” Omar said. “We believe people may still shy away from us in some way or have a bad idea of us, from things such as media reports or even from comments that the president-elect (Donald Trump) has made this year.”

Muslims will offer free doughnuts to those who stop to visit.

The society, which formed locally in 2006, placed a special emphasis on education and building awareness several years ago with the help of highly visible members such as Marwan Wafa, former IUPUC vice chancellor and dean from 2009 to 2015. For example, members regularly have hosted open houses at their mosque at the Islamic Center of Columbus, 2310 Chestnut St.

Those events have been occasions where members have answered a wide range of cultural and spiritual questions. Members also regularly have visited local Christian churches to speak in Sunday School classes about their beliefs and some of the common ground Islam shares with Christianity.

Aida Ramirez, director of the Columbus Human Rights Commission, has both professionally and personally supported local programs helping the local Muslim community build bridges of understanding, awareness and friendship in Bartholomew County.

“It’s all about building understanding,” Ramirez said. “I think part of the issue of misunderstandings for some people is really the fear of the unknown, or a lack of a personal connection.”

So Ramirez sees these face-to-face opportunities as particularly important.

“(Non-Muslim) people may have particular takeaways from media or maybe from neighbors about the Muslim faith,” Ramirez said. “That’s distinctly different than being able to talk directly to a person directly about a particular situation.

“Many of these people will find that when they truly connect with another human being, they will find that we often have more similarities than differences,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.