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York County Muslims: Educate through actions

Written by Caitlin Kerfin/York Daily Record | Dec 10, 2015 10:44 AM
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Durre Sharif, left, holds her son Zain, 3 at their home in Newberry Township. The holy month of Ramadan commemorates when Allah started to speak the verses of the Quran to Mohamad.(Photo: Paul Kuehnel - York Daily Record/ Sunday News)

Muslims in southcentral Pennsylvania are talking about how they can help educate the greater community on their beliefs

(Undated) -- Muslims in southcentral Pennsylvania are talking about how they can help educate the greater community on their beliefs and spread the word about Islam through actions, not just words.

Durre Sharif, of Newberry Township, is a member of a Ahmadiyya, a sect of Islam. Sharif wears a hijab, or a head scarf, and attends a mosque in Harrisburg that hosted a vigil for victims of the attack in California that killed 15 people, including one York County native.

"So much negativity is swarming about Islam, and it all becomes kind of a blur," Sharif said.

President Obama addressed the nation Sunday regarding the terrorist attacks in California. One of the things he discussed was religion -- the freedom to practice and the acceptance Americans should have for Muslims.

"We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam," he said.

But soon after, Donald Trump sparked a fire after calling for a "complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the country until U.S. representatives can "figure out what the hell is going on."

Momin Bhatti, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association of Harrisburg, said he was disappointed by Trump's divisive comments.

"We see extremism in the world today, and we can't resort to extremism ourselves," Bhatti said. "We have to maintain a focus on superior ideas on tolerance, education and compassion."

No one from the mosque in York, Masjid Al Tawheed, could be reached for comment.

The Amahdiya Muslim Youth Association of Harrisburg educates their youth on Islam's teachings, Bhatti said. They are trained in serving their communities and hold events like blood and food drives and interfaith dialogues.

"It's not just words, it's action," he said. "We show our love for humanity and our country by doing these services."

Group leaders teach the youth that there is no conflict between their identity as a Muslim and an American.

Although he hasn't experienced any discrimination or heard of anything happening in the Harrisburg area, he knows some Muslims who have.

"Throughout my life I've grown up here, and the American people are overwhelmingly great people," Bhatti said.

Part of the effort of the Ahmadiyya group is educating the community.

"Muslim communities need to step up and make sure that we put out there what true Islam is and that's what our community has been doing," Sharif said.

One of her favorite moments in York was when a group from a York Methodist church asked to learn more about Islam. Sharif invited them to an annual conference in Harrsiburg to experience what Islam is like first-hand, she said.

The experience made her feel proud to be an American Muslim and to live in York County, Sharif said.

Islamic Society of Hanover

The group has recently received threats on Facebook, said Ebrahim Gaibie, president of the society made up of Sunni Muslims.

The society says the partnership between Americans and Muslim Americans is essential, that they can't be an isolated group and need to play their part in safe-guarding everybody. Gaibie said he has told the group to report any hate and not to react with violence. Instead, group members should take the appropriate actions by reporting to the society or the authorities.

"We are on the front lines right now, and we have to voice our opinion and be sure that things are done in a legal and proper way," Gaibie said.

St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Dallastown

On Sunday, the theme of the worship service at St. Paul's was on gun violence. During communion liturgy, the Rev. Christopher Rodkey named all of those who died in California and Georgia, as well as the gunmen.

It's important in this community to name the Islamophobia, or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, that we see emerging and recognize how dangerous the prejudice is, Rodkey said. The Bible's teachings of welcoming the stranger needs to be emphasized, he said.

The congregation talks about how to treat those of other religions, Rodkey said. He is planning on offering an open intro to Islam course during Lent this year because he thinks there is genuine interest.

"Getting past the hurdle of language and discrimination is a first step," Rodkey said.

Pa. Nonbelievers

Though many in the Pennsylvania Nonbelievers have core issues with Islam, those concerns are about doctrine rather than the people who may hold to those principles, said Brian Fields, president of Pa. Nonbelievers, Inc.

He expects the topic to come up at their meeting coming up this week.

"But the issues about Islam frequently come up in our community," he said.


This article comes to us through a partnership between York Daily Record and WITF.

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