Hundreds of Muslims have gathered in Dallas, Texas for the Islamic Society of North America's Third Annual South Central Regional Conference. The main goal of conference organizers is to build understanding with people of other faiths.
Several hundred people came together in a hotel ballroom Friday to pray as the three-day conference got under way. Although men and women sat in separate sections of the hall, the Muslim cleric spoke to all believers, calling on them to be charitable toward their non-Muslim neighbors, not as a pretext for attracting them to Islam, but because that is what God calls on them to do.
The message is similar to what might be heard in a Christian or Jewish service, because, as Muslim leaders are quick to point out, the three religions share common origins and beliefs. All three religions are based on belief in one God, yet many non-Muslims still regard Islam as an exotic religion.
The theme of this conference is "Sharing Islam with our Neighbors," and organizers note that this does not necessarily refer to proselytizing. The secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, says that the eight-to-ten million people of the Islamic faith who live in the United States today are in a unique position to help Americans understand this religion and its worldwide influence.
"Muslims of America are an asset to America because they are bridge between America and the rest of the Muslim world and we take that role very seriously," he said.
Mr. Syeed says those Americans who embrace Islam also have a responsibility to bring about a better understanding of this country in the areas of the world where Islam is the dominant religion. "Muslims in the world have to understand that there is a Muslim population here who are practicing Islam in their day-to-day lives. Then, it is our duty to express, interpret and explain Islam to our fellow Americans, and it is our duty to explain America to our fellow Muslims," he said.
Muslims here feel a special bond with other Muslims in the Middle East and are concerned about the turmoil in that region. One of the main speakers at this conference is a State Department official who has come to explain U.S. policy in the Middle East.
This conference also includes special sessions on the growth of Islam among American Latinos, including forums conducted in Spanish where people explain why they converted to Islam.