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American Young Adults Learn About Islam

A group of 60 young adults held discussions in Washington recently (in late January) designed to break down ignorance and misperceptions about Muslims and the Islamic religion. The group consisted of Muslims, Christians and Jews who wanted to better understand each other's religious views. VOA's Deborah Block has more.

A documentary about the Prophet Muhammad, whose revelations and teachings became the foundation of Islam, opened the event. The film, called "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet," also follows the lives of several Muslims in the United States, including a nurse who works with Arabic-speaking hospital patients.

An Arabic-speaking nurse, speaking with a patient says, "I speak Arabic. There's nothing to worry about at all. If you need anything, let me know."

Alex Kronemer is the documentary's producer. He hopes the film will fill in the gaps of misunderstanding about Islam. "I think the thing it has accomplished most of all is that it has put a human face on Islam, particularly in America where most of what we know comes across headlines, often very frightening headlines, and what this program I hope has done has made a large viewing public aware of who Muslims are and who the Prophet Muhammad is."

Later the participants broke into groups to ask the Muslims to explain more about their faith. They included Amina Mohammad whose father grew up in Iraq. She hopes she can help reduce negative stereotypes about Islam. "I think some people had an image of Islam as kind of a militant, very strict religion and they realized that through our discussions and through the video that there's actually a lot more to it. It's about peace, love, understanding, being good to your neighbor, being part of the community, giving to the orphans, taking care of the poor -- just like Christianity and Judaism have these concepts."

The Washington-based Buxton Initiative helped sponsor the event. Doug Holliday, who is Christian, began the program with a Muslim friend to foster reconciliation among people from different faiths. "I think the trouble is today that a lot of people have never met a Muslim, Jew or Christian. They've reacted to a lot of stereotypes about all these people. And once people start connecting, it's amazing how that reverberates and has a kind of ripple effect. And our view is that if people can start to form these little islands of trust and hope that is not inconsequential."

Travis Pickell, who is also Christian, was encouraged by the interaction at his table. "It was important to me to be able to come here and personally relate and get to know some Muslims and also some Jewish people and talk about things that really mattered. I think people fear what they don't understand."

Stephanie Hertz, who is Jewish, learned that many Muslims in the United States have been fighting prejudice against them since the 9/11 [September 11, 2001] terrorist attacks.

"Young Muslim-Americans and their family members since 9/11 have had to defend themselves at times as an American. They've had to sometimes convince other people that even though they're Muslim, they are also American.

She thinks the more people of different faiths communicate with each other, the more roadblocks of religious ignorance and misperceptions will be torn down.