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SALT LAKE CITY — A new advocacy group that aims to educate people about Islam hosted a workshop Wednesday in hopes of answering questions about the faith.
Faeiza's Initiative staged the meeting, titled "Is Islamaphobia Real?" at the Marmalade Library.
"This is the first of many dialogues I want to have with the community here in Salt Lake City," said Faeiza Javed, the founder of Faeiza's Initiative.
Roughly half of those in attendance were practicing Muslims. Non-Muslims and Muslims were given assigned seating designed to result in them sitting next to one another.
"I want us to talk to each other," Javed said.
As a way of getting to know each other's life experiences, all participants were asked to close their eyes, then raise their hands if a description of an experience or an insecurity fit them, and then open their eyes.
"Close your eyes. Raise your hand if you have ever felt afraid in an airport," instructed Nora Abu-Dan, one of the presenters.
Abu-Dan also asked participants to raise their hand if they had ever felt unfairly judged for their beliefs or for speaking their native language.
Attendees also broke off into smaller groups for more specific presentations and roundtable discussions that addressed questions about the significance of wearing the hijab, the rise of ISIS and ways in which Islam intersects with the beliefs of other religions.
Presenter Satine Tashnizi said she believes prejudice against Muslims has recently had a "toxic" effect on the United States, and more understanding of the faith is needed.
"This country has a national security problem, and it's not terrorism. It is fear," she said. "Fear can also be exploited to terrify us into action. … As a country, we have (historically) made abhorrent decisions out of fear."
Tashnizi praised those who were in attendance, saying they deserved recognition for learning about differing worldviews rather than fearing them.
"We are those who seek the truth," she said.
Javed said more public dialogue about Utah Muslims and their experiences are needed in the state.
"I feel like it’s time and it’s overdue and we haven’t even started yet," she said.
Faeiza's Initiative plans to host two similar workshops at the Marmalade Library on March 13 and April 6.