Thursday, October 18, 2012

Islamic society builds bridges of understanding

     ORLANDO — Valencia’s Peace and Justice Initiative helped organize an educational outreach event in partnership with the Islamic Society of Central Florida (ISCF) on Friday.

     The violent protests that erupted last month as the result of an online film that negatively depicted the Islamic Prophet Muhammad prompted the outreach. The purpose of the event was to open lines of communication and dispel myths that lead to misunderstandings and violence.

     “So, as American Muslims, we felt that the response here, instead of reacting negatively to the insulting movie that we should do an educational campaign to reach out to our neighbors in the community,” said ISCF president Imam Muhammad Musri.

     Following last month’s embassy attack, the Islamic Society of Central Florida issued a statement on Sept. 12 condemning the criminal attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. They also offered prayers and condolences to the families and loved ones of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the three staff members who lost their lives.

     The ISCF rose from humble beginnings, when a small group of families held prayer services in a small trailer on Goldenrod Road back in the early 1970s. The group eventually purchased property on the street and began to build what would become the first official mosque in Central Florida.

     Bassem Chaaban, the ISCF director of operations, gave a guided tour of the mosque. During a short question and answer segment, Chaaban explained when and why they pray and the reasoning behind their religious beliefs.

     “We believe education is the greatest weapon to eradicate extremism, radicalization, racism and discrimination,” said Chaaban.

     The group does community outreach on a regular basis via open house events. Friday night offered a new event that focused on Valencia students and faculty. The night hinged on a presentation and the sharing of a free dinner of Middle Eastern cuisine.

     “Peace and Justice is trying to bring people together to focus on our commonalities and not our differences,” said Yasmeen Qadri, professor of education and social sciences at Valencia’s East Campus.

     A highlight of the event was the number of people in attendance; hundreds came out to participate. It wouldn’t have been possible if not for the interest and initial outreach of Valencia professor of humanities, Rachel Allen.

     “This is really for everybody, clearly it’s about educating our students, but I think it’s about educating all of us,” said Allen. “Because we are a community college it’s important that we all have an understanding of our neighbors in the community.”

     Many in attendance openly stated that they felt inspired after receiving information about the religious beliefs of Muslims. This event wasn’t about recruitment; its primary goal was education and working towards peace through greater understanding.

     For more information on the Islamic Society of Central Florida and its upcoming events, visit their website at

By James Tutten

(All photos by James Tutten)

ISCF president Imam Muhammad Musri speaks at the opening of this outreach event.

Those in attendance were treated to Middle Eastern cuisine as part of cultural exposure.

Artwork within the mosque depicting the Masjid-e-nabawi in the city of Madina.


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