Political candidates, elected officials and citizens supported their Islamic neighbors Thursday night at the first annual "Meet the Muslims of Charlotte" event at the Carole Hoefener Center.
On the heels of reality shows like TLC's "American Muslim" and Bravo's "Shahs of Sunset," a diverse panel of Muslims set the record straight about their religion, practices and daily life. Local Islamic organizations participated in the event, including the Islamic Center of Charlotte, Muslim American Society of Charlotte and the Sufi Order.
Rose Hamid created the event to bridge the gap between non-Muslims and the Charlotte Islamic community.
"There really weren't a lot of opportunities for people to meet Muslims unless they were co-workers or neighbors," Hamid said. "We decided to come up with this program to establish communication with Muslim and non-Muslim leaders."
A meet and mingle reception, complete with homemade traditional foods like hummus, pita bread and baklava, kicked off the event. Mecklenburg County Commissioner District 5 candidate Bill Griffin came to learn more and, although he could not confirm the number of Muslims in the district he is running in, acknowledged the importance of the Islamic community.
"To some degree, we as Americans have put some nationalities into buckets or groups of people," Griffin said. "We are all Mecklenburg County, we are all the United States of America."
The panelists, which included followers from around the world, fielded questions submitted by the audience. Poignant stories came from the female panelists, since a woman's role in the faith is often the most misunderstood. Jihad Saymeh, a pharmacist, said she is proud to be a Muslim-American.
"When I see the Charlotte skyline, I know I'm home," Saymeh said.
The ladies talked about the hajib, a head covering worn by some Islamic women.
"The headscarf doesn't make me a better Muslim than anyone else," said Jackeline Arshed, a CMS special-education teacher. Dr. Zubina Mawji Dahya added that although she doesn't wear the hajib, modesty for men and women is an important quality that affects overall behavior and attitude.
At the end of the evening, Hamid cautioned the audience not to over generalize the Islamic community in one night.
"When you've met one Muslim," she said, "you've met one Muslim."