The Northern Nevada Muslim Community building in Sparks was the location of a conference designed to bring together the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

The Northern Nevada Muslim Community building in Sparks was the location of a conference designed to bring together the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Photo By David Robert

Muslim conference tries to dispel ‘terrorist’ myth
“How many Muslims do we have here today?”

Many hands went up in this crowded room in the Northern Nevada Muslim Community building.

“How many non-Muslims?” asked Yusuf Estes, American chaplain to the World Assembly of Muslim Youth.

Some more hands.

“How do you like being surrounded by these terrorists?” Estes asked, with mock seriousness.

Those gathered laughed politely, but the joke might have hit a bit close to home for some who attended the first Islamic Conference of Northern Nevada over the weekend. Fear of terrorism, which can manifest itself as a fear of people who vaguely appear to be of Middle Eastern or African or Far Eastern descent, is today what fear of Communism was 50 years ago, Estes said, when people suspected of being Communists were “picked up and checked out” for any reason.

“You didn’t dare have the wrong agenda,” Estes said. “We like to have a bogeyman. We enjoy that. It sells a lot of newspapers.”

Estes, a former Christian minister and evangelist (complete with Texas drawl) who converted to Islam, explained carefully how the Qur’an, the foundational Islamic religious text, doesn’t support terrorism. He asserted that the spread of Islam has been generally peaceful.

“In the Bible, the word ‘sword’ appears 200 times. … In the Qur’an, none of the [Arabic] words for sword appear, not one.”

Half a dozen speakers—women and men, Muslim and non-Muslim—addressed the topic of “Islam’s Role in American Society” during the two-day conference. Aminah Assilmi, director of the International Union of Muslim Women, spoke about the myths and realities of Muslim women and about their roles in the families. Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, president of Shar’ia Scholars of America and chairman of the Universal Heritage Foundation, talked about mercy and tolerance in Islam.

Children working at the registration table were excited Sunday at the return of cameras from KOLO News.

“We’ll be famous,” said 10-year-old Zaina Awali. Zaina attends Jack’s Valley Elementary School. She said she enjoys spending time at the mosque.

“Here, you know, people are teaching each other about how to pray and how God’s really important,” she said.

As in any small religious community, the kids know each other well. When they get a bit antsy, adults chew them out with feigned sternness and empty threats.

And, as in any small religious community, a gathering attracts the needy. When a distressed man shows up outside asking for help, he’s given a bottle of water and more than enough money for a gallon of gas.

And what would a Sunday afternoon religious function be without a potluck?

The NNMC’s feast reflected diverse ethnicity: two kinds of falafel, samosas, a large bowl of hummus, bread with spinach dip, tortilla chips and several kinds of salsa.

The carb-rich food was tempting Nadiah Beekun, a Muslim mom from Sparks who said she’s lost 40 pounds on the Atkins diet. Her bare feet poked out from under a long burgundy robe as she sat at a table selling books titled “Islamic Business Ethics” and “Giving Children the Power of Islam.” Beekun noted the crowd’s assortment of attire—some women, like her, wore head coverings, others didn’t. Some men wore small white caps, triahs, and others had no headgear.

“Look, that guy’s wearing a ball cap,” she said.

It wasn’t hard for her to tell which folks were the non-Muslims. They were the ones who’d showed up on time, she said, smiling.

“This is why we know those attacking the World Trade Center were not Muslim,” she said. “We never coordinate anything that well.”