Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tampa Trib: Islamic Open House Deemed a Success

By JOSÉ PATIÑO GIRONA | The Tampa Tribune

Debbie and Larry Golbom came to Friday night's open house because they were curious about the Muslim community and wanted to know more.
"I thought it was pretty enlightening," said Debbie Golbom, of Largo, who said she came to the event with "zero" knowledge and understanding of Islam. "I was taken by the similarities of the religions."

The Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations hosted the open house at the Islamic Community of Tampa, 5910 E. 130th Ave. The goal was to demystify the religion and introduce people to some of its followers.

Larry Golbom said the dialogue is needed.

"The stereotype is that Islam is a terrorist religion," said Golbom, a 59-year-old Largo pharmacist. "An outreach program such as this is certainly a tremendous benefit to this community."

Hassan Shibly, executive director of CAIR's Tampa chapter, headed the 90-minute program. He recounted the history of Islam, outlined its beliefs and took questions from the audience of around 50 people, about half of whom weren't practicing Muslims.

Although Shibly speaks regularly to various organizations, Friday's meeting came about after the Florida Family Assocation and others criticized Shibly and the school district for allowing him to speak about Islam to a Sickles High School history class.

Shibly told the audience people of different backgrounds should recognize their similarities and appreciate and be tolerant of their differences.

"The best weapon against ignorance is knowledge and getting to know each other at a human level," he said.

He said the people promoting "Islamophobia" don't want dialogue.

"It counters the message that they are promoting that Muslims are evil and can't be trusted," Shibly said. "By engaging in the conversation we can overcome the prejudice and misunderstanding that divides us."

In the audience were about 10 people from First Baptist Church of Temple Terrace. They have embarked on a course to learn more about Islam to help foster tolerance and understanding.

Marc Roath, a pastor at the church, said the program fit perfectly into their church class.

"(It's) getting a better understanding of how someone from a Muslim background feels about all kinds of things — their faith, political issues, life in general," Roath said.

"Our goal is to remove the fear that someone might have talking to someone from a Muslim background."

Shibly said he hopes to host similar events in the future.

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