(Worth reading news article in Washington Post, especially questions posed by the visitors and its answers. f sheikh)
LAS CRUCES, N.M.
The mother and daughter arrived just before 8 a.m., unpacking the table and folding chairs from the back of a white minivan. It was a chilly 43 degrees, and the sun cast long shadows between the farmers market stalls and the funnel cake truck, the smell of grilled meat and wood smoke hovering.
Sureyya Hussain carefully laid out the Korans.
Soon, the curious passersby began to approach with their questions, their comments and their concerns. The answers, Hussain hoped, would inform and enlighten — or at least spur constructive conversations about being Muslim in America.
“We wanted to have a voice about what Islam is for us,” said Hussain, 50, who organizes the monthly table, where anyone can come to learn about Islam.
Muslims have been facing what they see as a tide of vitriol against them during the past two years, which has included hate crimes and harassment. Muslim leaders say that sentiment is fueled by the policies of President Trump’s administration, including attempts to ban immigration from Muslim-majority countries.
Add to that the terrorism done in the name of the Islamic State extremist group — including a deadly truck attack on Halloween afternoon in New York City — and many Muslims feel like there is a constant need to defend their identities and religion from suspicion.
For some of the nation’s small-town mosques and groups of recent immigrants, the instinct has been to turn inward, keep a low profile, buy security cameras, and tell young people to avoid confrontations. Other communities have tried the exact opposite: public engagement.
The Islamic Center of Las Cruces, the only mosque in this desert town of 101,000 about an hour north of the Mexican border, is one of them.
Hussain and other members of the mosque’s Dawa — or outreach committee — come here, to the town’s farmers market, and set up a sign that says “Know Islam” amid the stalls hawking apples, kettle corn and handmade soaps. They provide free Korans and pamphlets on different Islamic beliefs, and then they sit there for five hours, offering themselves up for whatever comes their way.
They want to get out in front of the hate, nip it in the bud before it starts. Let them come with their stereotypes and their fears, but give them answers.
The questions on a typical Saturday have range: “What do you worship?” “Do you wear your scarves in the shower?” “Do you walk behind your husband?” (The answers to the last two were “No.”)
Sometimes the conversations get difficult — maybe even a little uncomfortable or combative — but the volunteers do their best to stay calm and friendly.
The visitors on this Saturday included dog-walkers, families and elderly couples. There was a man with a bicycle who asked if all Muslims are required to make the hajj pilgrimage — no, they said — and another man who asked if it was appropriate to address Muslims with “Salaam” — sure, they said.
At one point, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), trailed by a small scrum of aides and local TV reporters, stopped by and greeted everyone at the table.
Then came the two heavily tattooed, bearded men in motorcycle apparel who wanted a copy of the Koran. And then there was the woman wearing a small dog in a pouch, who asked whether anyone was interested in puppy adoption, before adding a comment they have heard from others in this liberal-leaning city that backed Hillary Clinton: “I want to apologize for this president. He does not represent us.”
One woman, who introduced herself as Hannah, a recent college graduate and Christian, asked if they had ever read the Bible and whether Muslims view it as “corrupted.” She also wondered how Muslims think about sin if they don’t believe Jesus died for them.
“For us, prophets die, prophets sacrifice, and that’s what makes them great,” Hussain explained. “We disagree on the fact that human beings carry the stain of original sin. But that doesn’t mean we can’t converse and can’t be friends.”
A lot of people have questions about what Muslims believe, especially when it comes to violence, Christianity and America.
So the group hands out pamphlets like “What do Muslims think about Jesus?” and “Muslims stand against terrorism if they stand with Islam.” And they display a collection of books with titles like “All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim” and “The Muslim Next Door; The Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing.”
Sometimes though, there are the people who don’t have any questions, just opinions.
It was late morning, the throngs of people growing between the stands of pecans and dried chile peppers, when a man with a black Chihuahua in a pink sweater walked by. Azimi immediately felt a surge of anxiety.
The last time this man came by the table, the conversation quickly got heated and voices were raised.
But John Thomas and Robertita — the Chihuahua — wandered over anyway. Thomas is a member of ACT for America, a group that has accused U.S. Muslim organizations of supporting terrorism and of trying to impose Islamic law across the country.
He wanted to talk about “political Islam,” which he believes is “a threat to our Western values.”