Muslims serve history to guests for Ramadan

By Deborah Horan

Tribune staff reporter

Published November 12, 2002,0,6534863.story

Columbus traveled with Arabs to the New World,

Jefferson had a copy of the Koran in his library, and

African Muslim slaves were brought to the Americas,

said a speaker at a weekend feast celebrating the

Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"Islam has been a part of America since its

inception," Khurram Mozaffar, a Muslim activist, told

Muslim and non-Muslim dinner guests at the Islamic

Foundation in Villa Park. The feast is among several

being held nightly across the Chicago area during the

holy month of fasting, which began Wednesday and ends

in the first week of December.

The guests came to celebrate iftar, which marks the

end of the daily fast. Mozaffar said his speech was

intended to educate the church members, librarians and

other non-Muslims in attendance about the region's

Islamic community, particularly in the wake of recent


"After Sept. 11, all my in-boxes and voice mails were

filled with messages from my non-Muslim friends who

wanted me to explain to them what they were seeing on

TV," Mozaffar said. "It occurred to me that if we

don't speak then they'll turn to other sources that

might be less accurate."

Over the weekend, Muslims across Chicago held similar

events as part of a Ramadan outreach program loosely

coordinated by the Council of Islamic Organizations.

During the rest of the holy month, mosques in

Schaumburg, Bridgeview, Libertyville, Chicago and

Villa Park plan to invite businesspeople, church

leaders, city officials and the public to feast,

listen to speakers and perhaps gain a better

understanding of Islamic customs.

"It gives us a chance to clear our name," said Yusra

Gomaa, a high school senior at the Islamic Foundation

School, a K-12 school at the Islamic Foundation whose

Dawa Club helped organize the iftar. "We don't

interact as much with people of different faiths. This

gives us a chance to."

During his speech, Mozaffar discussed what it means to

him to be Muslim and American, the Muslim belief that

they worship the same God as Christians and Jews, and

some people's perceptions that Islam is inherently

violent and oppressive to women.

For Scott Helton, principal at Addison Trail High

School, the anecdotes on Jefferson and Columbus seemed

to have the most impact.

"That was new! That was new!" Helton said. "I did not

know that."

According to historians, Jefferson's library log

included a copy of the Koran, the Islamic holy book,

under the title "Sale's Koran"--apparently because it

was translated by George Sale, said Tom Baughn, a

researcher at the Jefferson Foundation Library.

William Phillips of the University of Minnesota said

Columbus hired an Arabic translator to accompany him

on his voyage to the West Indies because he thought he

would encounter Arabic speakers along the way.

Columbus also read information by Arab geographers to

prepare for the voyage, Phillips said.

"I never realized that from early on the Islamic faith

was here," said Marlene Stratton, a librarian at the

Plum Memorial Library in Lombard who attended the

dinner with fellow librarians.

Helton said students from 54 countries attend his

school, including several Muslim students who spent

their elementary years at the Islamic Foundation

School. So many Muslims attend Addison Trail that the

school opened the auditorium for prayer during

Ramadan, Helton said.

The school has also had student workshops on Islam,

Helton said.

"They asked questions from dating to politics," he


The iftar was his first Muslim feast, he said.

"You're talking acceptance," he said of the outreach

program. "People can learn what other people are all


Copyright  2002, Chicago Tribune


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