MUSLIM leaders have called for better understanding of Islam; amid concerns terrorist attacks and fundamentalism are warping opinions of the religion.
More than 800 people turned up at an event held to discuss all aspects of the religion and listen to a host of high-profile speakers at Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange yesterday afternoon.
The event, called “Hope Conference; Islam is not what you think”, was designed to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together to break down barriers.
Zahid Ali, a spokesman for the group organising the event, Vision Islam, said the aim was to encourage dialogue.
“The problem we have is this – there are people who have a view of what Islam is, but most people don’t interact with Muslims, and if they do it is generally in a shop, so they don’t have a chance to interact on a social level and exchange views.
“We wanted to provide a social space, a family-friendly venue, for people of all religions to meet and have free discussions.”
As well as scores of exhibition boards and stalls about the religion there was also a series of lectures tackling topics such as “Islam a Religion of Peace & Hope”, “Islam misunderstood: media’s role” and “Are Women Oppressed in Islam”.
The event, which attracted Muslims and non-Muslims from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, was held to tie in with the end of Islam Awareness Week.
Mr Ali said: “This particular event was designed to be a really positive day – to bring people from all faiths together to share their thoughts on Islam.”
Speaking about contrasts in attitudes to Islam, he added: “There is this family side to Islam where we are all interacting and sharing ideas – then there is the darker side of politics and the rise of attacks against Muslim women, against Mosques and the rise of Islamophobia.
“We are caught in a very difficult place,” he added. “At one end we have been hijacked by radical fundamentalists and on the other side we are being targeted by people who think all Muslims are extremist. This is always something that is simmering under the surface – an anti-Muslim sentiment – especially in tough economic times.
“In challenging economies, as we have seen throughout history, Nazi right-wing groups rise up. However, we are aware of this, which is why it is so important to get people talking, and break down barriers.”
Mr Ali also spoke about Scottish Independence, saying he personally thought the Muslim community might benefit.
“Like any community there are people on both sides of the argument. My personal feeling is that if we had an independent Scotland then it would be easier to enact some law to protect religious minorities.
“There is of course the law again bigotry which we think is heading down the right religious lines – and we’ve had some positive noises from the Scottish Government.”
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, who visited the conference, said: “Events like these can help to dispel ignorance. They can help contribute to the process of dismantling damaging and excluding stereotypes and reduce misunderstanding or misrepresentation.”
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