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Article updated: 4/30/2013 5:42 PM

Elgin event aims to break stereotypes about Islam

By Elena Ferrarin

An event designed to increase knowledge of Islam and the Muslim community has been in the works for months in Elgin but is particularly timely in the wake of the Boston bombings, organizers said.

"Who Is My Islamic Neighbor?" takes place May 19 at Elgin Community College. It will include speakers Gerald Hankerson, outreach coordinator for the Chicago Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Mariam Nasser, a teacher at Elgin Academy.

There will also be small-group discussions facilitated by members of the Institute of Islamic Education in Elgin, said Rev. Denise Tracy, president of the Coalition of Elgin Religious Leaders, one of the sponsors of the event.

"In the current climate, and even more so after the events of the last couple of weeks, we thought that understanding and education (about Islam) would improve the community feel that we would like to encourage in Elgin," Tracy said.

The event also is sponsored by ECC and the Elgin Human Relations Commission.

Danise Habun, human relations commission member, said she had the idea of organizing the Elgin event after attending a similar one in Hanover Park last year. The goal is also to break down stereotypes about Muslims, Habun said.

"At the program in Hanover Park, there were several people in the audience who came in trying to bait the speaker into an argument about the teachings in the Quran," she said. "The information that was shared by the presenter just did a lot to demystify the stereotypes that many of us hold about the Muslim community."

Mohammad Iqbal, chairman of the Elgin Human Relations Commission, said there are about 40 Muslim families in Elgin.

Iqbal said that, in his 30 years in Elgin, this is the first event of its kind he's heard of.

"The goal is getting the general information out, and let people know who we are. And get the Islamophobia out of their minds -- or at least try," Iqbal said.

The event is 2 to 5 p.m. May 19 in the Community Room of Building B at ECC, 1700 Spartan Drive. Those who want to attend the May 19 event are encouraged to RSVP by contacting the Coalition of Elgin Religious Leaders at (847) 841-5123, Habun at (847) 754-8064 or dhabun@msn.com, or the city of Elgin at (847) 931-6100.

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