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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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Mosques Open Their Doors to Neighbors in Effort to Win Over Skeptics

October 22, 2010 - 10:23 AM | by: Lauren Green

The prayers, the Koran and the people. They’re the three things Muslims would like Americans to know about.

To counter negative stereotypes, Muslim leaders nationwide are flinging open the doors to their mosques, hoping to present a positive image of Islam.

“The main thing is to open the doors and to share with people, to clarify who we are so people have no fears, so we can develop stronger relationships overall,” says Imam Al-Amin Abdul Latif of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York.

Christine Earls of Islip, N.Y., came to an open house at the Muslim Center of Long Island. “I was always interested in the mosque and I wanted to be more educated about it,” she said.

That’s exactly the type of response Muslims are looking for — people who are seekers, curious about their Muslim neighbors.

The neighborly hospitality is certainly part of the effort, but its fundamental impetus is to combat widespread opposition to building an Islamic cultural center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. And it’s a hard task, indeed. A Fox News Opinion Dynamics Poll shows 61 percent – other polls put the figure as high as 70 percent — oppose building a mosque so close to the site of the worst terror attack on U.S. soil, an attack that was perpetrated by Muslim extremists.

Dr. Hafiz Rehman, who hosted the Long Island event, says, “On 9/11 the planes were hijacked and the religion was hijacked. We want to build close to there so people know Muslims are mainstream Americans also.”

It will be an uphill battle.

Pamela Geller, head of Stop Islamization of America, sees a sinister purpose behind the open-house PR campaign: “Dawa, proselytizing to Islam, bringing people to Islam to convert,” she says.

“This is not about sensitivity. There has not been one instance that they reconsidered Ground Zero Mosque…. I don’t think the American people need an education. I think that the Islamic supremacists need some sensitivity training.”

But Latif maintains that this is about more than the Ground Zero Mosque. It’s about conflicts over mosques across the country.

According to the Pew Forum, there have been 35 proposed mosques or Islamic centers that have encountered community opposition in the last two years, including mosques in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Portland, Maine, and Green Bay, Wis. Some people in those communities object to what seems to them like a sudden tide of new Islamic houses of worship. And that may not be too far from fact: the Pew Forum numbers show that in the last decade, there’s been a more than 50 percent increase in the number of mosques in the U.S. — from 1,209 in 2000, to 1,897 in 2010.

Geller’s organization has become the biggest thorn in the side of Muslim groups like Latif’s. She’s helped stage protests against the Ground Zero Mosque and has taken out ads on buses and taxis that blast Islam.

“We’re trying to thwart and stymie their influence,” Latif says. “We don’t control the media, so we figure we’ll open up the mosques.”

The effort, at least for now, may be working. Anthony Quintal of Bay Shore, L.I., came away saying only positive things about his visit to an area mosque.

“Contrary to what some people may think, they are just like any other faith or religion,” he said. “There is good and bad in all types of people.”

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