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Islam: a way of life
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Islamic Center of Minnesota (MPR photo/Brandt Williams)
This weekend between 500 to 1,000 Muslims from around the Midwest are expected in Minneapolis for a convention called, "Islam, a Way of Life." The convention is the first of its kind in the state. Organizers have two objectives: to help Muslims navigate their way through American life and help non-Muslims gain a better understanding of Islam.

Minneapolis, Minn. — At the Islamic Center of Minnesota in Columbia Heights, Hyder Mohamed Khan greets some of the nearly 200 Muslims who are leaving Friday prayers. Khan is handing out flyers announcing an upcoming event at the center in May. The people walking past Khan represent Islam from all corners of the world.

"All the way from Indonesia to Morocco," he says. "Every country is probably represented here. It's the true rainbow of Islam."

Khan -- who is from India -- is one of an estimated 140,000 Muslims living in Minnesota. Islam is considered the fastest growing religion in America. There are about six million Muslims in the United States. However, those who follow Islam are still a mystery to many Americans. Khan says people might be surprised to know that most Muslims are not Arabs.

"Arabs constitute about 10 percent of the Muslim world," says Khan. "So 90 percent of Muslims do not live in the Middle East."

Americans are not completely unfamiliar with Islam. However organizers of the conference say 9/11 and the recent upsurge in violence in Iraq don't provide accurate representations of true Islam.

"There's a lot of negativity about Islam in the media and here and there," says Hesham Hussein, head of the Muslim Council of Minnesota and is helping to organize the conference.

There's a lot of negativity about Islam in the media
- Hesham Hussein

Hussein says most militant Muslims in the Middle East are more the products of their environments than they are of Islam. He says suicide bombers and terrorists are more akin to American children who grow up in violent, gang-infested neighborhoods and become criminals.

"And the same is when you are growing up in a Muslim country and it's occupied and there's poverty and there is no chance for receiving a good education, there is no chance of getting good jobs there is no hope and for a lot of these families and these youth growing up for the future, then you start seeing these things," he says.

Hussein says the conference is also a good opportunity for Muslims to attend lectures, workshops and panel discussions on critical issues like raising children.

He says a lot of Muslim parents in Minnesota are immigrants and may need help adjusting to American cultural norms. The conference will feature lectures and workshops on parenting led by a husband and wife team who've written several books on Islam and the family. Muhammad Reda Beshir and his wife, Dr. Eckram Beshir, moved to Canada from Egypt more than 25 years ago. The couple's books are based on the Koran and their experiences raising their four children who were all born in Canada.

"The only problem we may have had was for some time we tried to use the same pattern that were used on us when we were young," says Beshir. "Then we realized, no this is not the right thing to do. They are born in different place and different times and will have different challenges to face."

Muslim children and parents are exposed to many values and behaviors that differ with their own, says Beshir. He says he and his wife learned that the best way to help their children negotiate the western cultural landscape is to talk with them and allow them to ask questions.

"This is an Islamic way of doing things. It's exactly what the prophet Muhammad -- peace be upon him -- did with anybody who came to him with a question. He allowed them to ask and he listened and they dialogued with them and he provided an answer that touched his heart and made him feel that's the right way of doing it. And this is what we're trying to do with our children," says Beshir.

The conference takes place during one of the holiest weeks in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hesham Hussein says the timing of the conference was coincidental -- this weekend just worked out best for the organizers. Muslims regard and respect Jesus as a prophet - but believe Muhammad to be the prophet and messenger of god's word. However, Hussein says Christians, Jews and Muslims all worship the same god.

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