About five years ago, a small group of Muslims decided they needed to address what they sensed was an increasing animosity toward their religion.
Led by Mohamed Haroon Sait, a businessman who lives in north Charlotte, the group began reaching out to the community.
“We thought it would be better to have a unified effort to address these issues before things got out of hand,” Sait said.
He now leads the American Islamic Outreach Foundation, which has ongoing efforts to help people in the greater Charlotte area get to know Muslims better.
The foundation has hosted everything from Meet Your Muslim Neighbor open houses to the Quran Mobile, a van that visits around the region with free Qurans. Volunteers sometimes set up tables at the corner of Trade and Tryon streets in uptown Charlotte to hand out information and answer questions about Islam.
Most of all, volunteers with the foundation want people to get to know them and understand that they have many of the same hopes and dreams.
“Interactions tear down barriers,” Sait said.
The foundation officially became a nonprofit in mid-2012 with goals of promoting education about Islam and dispelling misconceptions through community service and programs.
“Islam is a faith that encourages us to reach out to people with the message of peace and turning to God,” Sait said.
They began inviting people to open houses around Charlotte and into their homes. Sait said that he and his wife, Thafseera Bai, have asked neighbors to eat with them as they broke the day’s fast during Ramadan, an annual Muslim period of fasting.
Sait then designed the Quran Mobile, covering a van with a plastic wrap printed with information about the Quran, Islam’s sacred book. Sait drove the van himself at first, and now a full-time driver visits stops throughout the Carolinas.
The van is a “staple and one of our ongoing projects,” said Hanifa Shaikh, who works with the foundation. The driver answers questions about Islam and the Quran, and he also hands out free Qurans and literature.
Once, a man followed the driver into a post office to ask for a free book, Sait said.
In 2015, the foundation opened the Free Shifa Health Clinic at the Muslim American Society of Charlotte’s facility on Shamrock Drive. It is open to all people who are uninsured and live below the poverty line, regardless of their faith.
At the clinic, which is run by Muslim medical professionals, patients can receive free health screenings and medical advice.
The foundatiom volunteers also are becoming more involved in community service. They have worked with Habitat for Humanity, packed meals for the hungry, provided food for people who are homeless and are involved in the Adopt-A-Street program.
Finding a location
Now, Sait is looking for a facility for the foundation, preferably near his office and home where there is diverse community.
From there, the foundation will continue to reach out across Charlotte. It recently held a well-attended open house in South Charlotte, where people came to ask questions and share a meal with American Islamic Outreach Foundation volunteers.
Sait encourages visitors to get to know Muslims and “find out who they are rather than someone telling you who they are.”
“We tell them to be objective and not to blindly follow what you read and hear.”
He said Muslims generally are hospitable, courteous, friendly, peace-loving and hard-working people.
“This is an uphill battle,” Sait said. “We’re working against the tide. Every day something happens somewhere.
“Whatever we can do, we do. The rest we leave in the hands of God.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
American Islamic Outreach Foundation, http://americanislamicoutreach.org.