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Islamic Community Featured in Albuquerque Journal

The Albuquerque Journal recently ran a news story titled “New Mexico’s tiny Islamic community spreads a message of inclusion, calm to neighbors.”

Friday Prayers at ICNM

Friday Prayers at the Islamic Center of NM by Dean Hansen ABQ Journal

Here’s the beginning of the story by Rosalie Rayburn:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Members of New Mexico’s tiny Islamic community say they have been touched by the support shown them by Albuquerque residents in response to political rhetoric that has roiled the presidential election campaign in the wake of the rise of ISIS and attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris, Brussels and California that killed dozens.

In December, after Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims entering the country – which he now claims was only “a suggestion until we find out what’s going on” – the New Mexico Islamic Center in Albuquerque was deluged by mail expressing support from individuals, churches and other groups.

Abbas Akhil

Abbas Akhil, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico

“We literally received so many letters I stopped opening all of them, some well wishers even sent money,” said Abbas Akhil, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico.

When someone threw a Molotov cocktail at the center in October 2014 shortly after an attack on the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa by a gunman who had converted to Islam, hundreds of people joined a hastily arranged peace walk to show their concern.

“It was very heartwarming to see,” Akhil said.

Around 4,000 Muslims were living in New Mexico in 2010, according to the most recent U.S. Religion Census figures. They hail from India, Pakistan, Turkey, the Middle East New York, Rio Arriba County and right here in Albuquerque. They are students, professors, professional people and families.

A very small number are refugees sent to New Mexico for resettlement after having been officially recognized as fleeing persecution by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Catholic Charities and Lutheran Family Services are the two agencies that work with refugees. Catholic Charities Executive Director Jim Gannon said his agency receives about 150 individuals a year and up to 25 percent of those are from Middle Eastern or African countries, but he did not have a detailed breakdown.

Tarrie Burnett, program director for Lutheran Family Services, said it received a total of around 100 individuals from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran between Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015.

Only four Syrian refugees were resettled in New Mexico between Jan. 1, 2015, and May 25 this year, according to the Refugee Processing Center website wrapsnet.org.

Outreach efforts

Even before Trump’s remarks, Muslim groups in New Mexico were making outreach efforts to educate the wider community about Islam. They wanted to counterbalance negative perceptions of Islam generated by acts of violence by the terrorist group ISIS.

“People are killing innocent people in the world so we are trying to promote peace and dialogue and friendship, tolerance, living in harmony, mutual respect,” said Necip Orhan, executive director of the Raindrop Foundation Turkish House, which opened in Albuquerque six years ago. The foundation promotes cultural awareness and also support services for people from Turkey and surrounding Turkic countries like Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.

Orhan called the political rhetoric “disturbing” though he did not think it reflected the beliefs of people he had met in Albuquerque.

“But sometimes I feel concerned because that kind of rhetoric can motivate extremists to do something against Muslims, against Hispanics, against immigrants,” Orhan said. If the rhetoric became a reality, said Orhan, “It would be the end of the American dream. America is a role model in terms of co-existence, of living together, many ingredients in the same dish.”

At the University of New Mexico, the Muslim Students Association has held regular open talk sessions on campus.

“We talk to people about Islam and how Islam is misportrayed in the media,” said association president Masood Mirza. “People think what they see on TV is what Islam is.”

The 20-year-old accounting student of Indian and Pakistani heritage said people are often surprised to learn he was born in Albuquerque and is not an Arab.

“Our goal is to show how diverse a faith this (Islam) is,” Mirza said.

In recent months, groups of Muslim women have been holding public forums at UNM, local libraries and churches where they answer questions about Muslim beliefs, prayers and attitudes toward women in Islam.

At a forum in late April at the Martha Liebert Library in Bernalillo, the first question posed to the six-woman panel was, “Is Islam really violent?”

Sabiha Quraishi

Sabiha Quraishi

The immediate and unanimous response to the question from the women panelists was “No.”

Although the panel moderator stated at the outset that there would be no discussion of politics, the panelists acknowledged that among the roughly 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide there are those that have committed violent acts. But those acts were about “power and money” not religious faith.

“They have nothing to do with Islam,” said the panel moderator.

“Islam means submission to God. It means peace,” said Indian-born Sabiha Quraishi, who has been in Albuquerque for 27 years.

Muslims greet each other, she said, by saying “As-salaamu alaikum,” which means “peace be upon you.” The response is “Wa alaikum as-salaam,” which means “and upon you peace.”

Read the rest of the story at the Albuquerque Journal website.

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