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Muslims Launch Teaching Effort to Counter Furor Over Cartoons

Times Staff Writer

In response to the controversy surrounding cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad, Muslim officials from Anaheim to Washington launched a nationwide campaign Tuesday aimed at educating the public about the religious leader.

Caricatures of Muhammad appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten last fall and have been reprinted in recent weeks elsewhere in Europe.

Their appearance has triggered often-violent protests by Muslims.

“The only way we can end this vicious cycle of violence is by understanding each other,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Anaheim.

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By holding a dozen news conferences throughout the United States and Canada on Tuesday, the council said it hoped to turn a negative incident into a learning opportunity. Islamic leaders said many of the Southland’s 70 mosques would hold open houses this month focusing on the life of Islam’s prophet. The council also urged non-Muslims to visit its website, www.cair.com, to obtain a free DVD or book on Muhammad’s teachings.

There are about half a million Muslims in Southern California and about 150,000 in Orange County, mostly in Garden Grove, Anaheim and Irvine. Muslim leaders said there had been little local reaction to the cartoons, in part because Southern California newspapers had not published the caricatures of Muhammad. Only a few U.S. newspapers have, the largest being the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“I’m not here to say no one has the right to publish these cartoons,” said Mohammed Faquh, imam of the Islamic Institute of Orange County.

“We’re just asking continued restraint and responsibility by the media.”

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Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, asked local Muslims to continue their nonviolent response to the cartoons.

“I don’t think it ever makes any sense to harm innocent people,” Syed said. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

But Ayloush said the entire episode could have been avoided if the non-Muslim world had a better understanding of his faith and prophet.

“Muslims have more love for Muhammad than themselves, their parents or their family,” Ayloush said.

“To depict someone who taught the need to be respectful of others is especially offensive. That is where the hurt comes from.”

Mark Levine, an associate professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture and Islamic studies at UC Irvine, praised the Islamic community for its efforts at diplomacy.

“If you can get past the anger, misunderstanding and suspicion,” he said, “these events become opportunities to teach everyone and learn more about ourselves. This has a short life cycle, because in a few weeks, we’ll be onto the next disaster.”


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