Chicago-area Muslims gathered Sunday to combat Islamophobia with a host of workshops geared toward challenging hateful stereotypes and finding solutions.
Speakers encouraged roughly 250 attendees at a conference in Rosemont to speak to their neighbors, join community groups and engage their public officials to counter fear spreading about Islam.
"Show people who Muslims are rather than who they're not," said Edina Lekovic, director of policy and programming at the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
The conference was assembled in the wake of several local and national events stirring hate and portraying Muslims negatively, organizers said. Most recently, a new al-Qaida video calls on Muslims to carry out attacks in the United States and in Europe, and the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a federal discrimination lawsuit on behalf of a Muslim former owner of a hookah lounge.
The complaint alleges that south suburban Worth officials gave Friends Cafe and Lounge more than 45 code violations in 2009 and tried to revoke owner Ala Alsherbini's business license.
"We think that there's sort of an understanding among the trustees that they don't want Middle Eastern-owned businesses in the area, and that's why he's being targeted," said Christina Abraham, civil rights director of the council.
Worth officials, including Village President Randy Keller, did not return calls for comment on Sunday.
Hatem Bazian, director of the Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project at the University of California at Berkeley, said the Internet has allowed small groups with Islamophobic tendencies to flourish.
"They've been able to capture the public square with a very decisive, negative, racist Islamophobic discourse," Bazian said.
Aatisa Sadiq, 20, of Morton Grove, said she remembers her Islamic school receiving bomb threats after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"My intention is to help kids not to be afraid of what other people may be saying about us because our identity as Muslims is really important," said Sadiq, who helped coordinate youth sessions. "We are not the terrorists."