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Tigard Muslims combat extremism at conference

The event will be held over three days in Harrisburg, Pa.


TIMES FILE PHOTO - Harris Zafar of Tigard will travel to a national conference where he and others will discuss ways to quell radicalization in the Muslim communityA Tigard man will be among the thousands of Muslim Americans gathering this weekend at a national conference aimed at combating extremism that claims the banner of their faith.

“We want to show people that we loudly condemn extremism,” said Harris Zafar. “We also want to show them what Islam is really all about, that extremism doesn’t align with the true teaching of our faith.”

Zafar and other locals from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a denomination of Islam with millions of global followers, will travel to Harrisburg, Pa., to participate in Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA's three-day annual convention, one of the largest and longest-running events of its kind.

Zafar is a spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and has appeared as a commentator on national news outlets such as Fox News and CNN. Approximately five people from the Tigard area will be joining him at the conference.

For nearly seven decades, the conference has been a place for Muslim Americans to come together, build a sense of camaraderie and rejuvenate spiritually.

But in the wake of continuing terrorist attacks by individuals claiming the mantle of Islam, this year’s conference has yet another focus.

This year, the conference will brainstorm ways to quell radicalization among Muslims in the United States and worldwide.

“How do we as a community handle that? What is our role to combat that?” Zafar said, noting that the conference will pose such questions to its attendees.

They’ll also discuss ways of dealing with rising anti-Muslim sentiment and rhetoric that has dominated the media.

“I’m very meticulous in how I define Islamophobia,” said Zafar.

He doesn’t personally consider criticisms of the faith to fit that definition, but irrational fear and hate crimes have indeed threatened Muslim communities, he said. Online anonymity, in particular, has often brought out racially-tinged, dehumanizing comments.

But people in the Portland suburbs have generally been open-minded and respectful towards their Muslim neighbors, said Zafar. Most people express their fear and hesitation in a respectful way conducive to dialogue.

Over the years, there have been pockets of threatening incidents. Protestors have surrounded the Portland Rizwan Mosque and loudly confronted worshippers with crass, crude remarks, said Zafar.

While Zafar is willing to take on the role of being a spokesperson for his faith, the weight of that responsibility can be heavy.

“It does get frustrating at times,” said Zafar. “It’s easy to lose hope when you’re surrounded by a barrage of attacks, especially online.”

When he goes on national news, Zafar’s social media pages often fill up with onslaughts of threats and nasty comments from people who claim they know his faith better than he does.

After attending the conference, Zafar hopes to bring back anti-extremism strategies and community-building ideas that he can share locally at interfaith events.

The goal, he said, is not to convert people to Islam, but to encourage a sense of tolerance and acceptance.

“We’re partners with our fellow Americans,” he said. “We’re on your side. We want violence to end as well.”