Muslim dispels myths

EVERETT – When Snohomish County Councilman Dave Gossett was looking for a Muslim to give the invocation at the July 7 County Council meeting, an interfaith group directed him to Jeff Siddiqui.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Siddiqui has made a mission of countering negative stereotypes about Islam. The Lynnwood real estate agent has spoken before skeptical Veterans of Foreign Wars members in Edmonds, addressed Jewish students in Everett and talked to teachers in Snohomish.

He not only expects questions about whether Islam teaches violence or whether most Muslims support terrorist kingpin Osama bin Laden, he welcomes them.

“If you ask questions about a preconceived notion, that means people are opening their minds a bit,” Siddiqui said. “When I go to a talk, the first thing I say is that nothing is off-limits.”

Siddiqui sees it as a victory simply to be asked to speak about Islam.

“It’s a sign of a really enlightened public,” he said. “It’s really refreshing that in this country, so many people are saying, ‘Tell us what you believe and what your religion is all about.’”

Siddiqui estimates that he has talked to several hundred groups across the state – including 20 to 30 in Snohomish County – since Sept. 11, 2001. Other members of American Muslims of Puget Sound, which was formed as an education and advocacy group after the terrorist attacks, have also given addresses on Islam.

A Muslim has never before offered the opening prayer at a County Council meeting. Siddiqui’s appearance will underline the growing religious diversity in Snohomish County, Gossett said.

Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman of Temple Beth Or in Everett said he invited Siddiqui to speak before a ninth- and tenth-grade religious education class last year in part to show how Islam and Judaism share most beliefs and values.

“Obviously, there are divisions between Muslims and Jews, but there are a huge number of people – I still believe it’s the majority – who don’t want those divisions,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are always political leaders who want to exploit the differences.”

Many members of VFW Post 8870 in Edmonds knew little about mainstream Islam before Siddiqui spoke to them last year, Commander Duane Pounds said.

“Before he started talking, there was quite a bit of animosity in the room,” Pounds said. “But the more he talked, the more the guys warmed up to him. We got a different impression about what the Muslim religion is really about than what we had had.”

“Islam has in a sense been hijacked by fundamentalists, and that’s been overreported in the press,” said the Rev. Lawrence Perry of Trinity Episcopal Church in Everett, where Siddiqui spoke in early 2002.

“From what we understand, mainline Islam is in direct conflict with fundamentalist Islam. We see the same thing happening with Christianity: there’s a conflict between fundamentalist and mainline Christianity.”

Reporter David Olson: 425-339-3452 or dolson@

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