A local businessman and religious leader leaves today with nine of his grandchildren for an international children's peace and tolerance conference in Cairo, at the invitation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
As vice president of the Newport-Mesa-Irvine Interfaith Council, Thomas Thorkelson has been active in helping the Islamic community overcome negative stereotypes.
Thorkelson, 67, a financial planner, was instrumental in organizing the Ramadan celebration in February, in which 16,000 Muslims filled a blimp hangar at the Tustin Marine Corps Air Facility for a prayer service. Thorkelson called the event an amazing feat, considering the stigma held against fundamentalist Muslims after the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut.
"I've tried to help non-Muslims to recognize that the Muslim people as a group are really, really good people," Thorkelson said. "It's really important not to paint Muslim people with the color of a terrorist."
During the past two years, Thorkelson has helped organize aid to an orphanage in Jordan, supplying equipment for children with disabilities. In recognition of his efforts, Thorkelson has been invited several times to meet the royal family.
Thorkelson said he was surprised a few days ago when the Egyptian ambassador phoned with a last-minute invitation to lead a group of schoolchildren to Egypt for the 10-day conference.
Largely because of the short notice, Thorkelson is taking nine of his 39 grandchildren.
The purpose of the conference is to let children from around the world meet in the hopes of destroying stereotypes and fostering a positive attitude in potential future leaders of the world, Thorkelson said.
"I've really been blessed for work I've done for the Interfaith activities," said Thorkelson, who is also a Mormon bishop and vice president of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
"Good people should not be antagonistic toward other good people of different faiths."