ORLANDO, Fla. – After their afternoon prayers, members of the Islamic Society of Central Florida double-checked the moon-walk ride, unfolded American flag paper tablecloths and began barbecuing chicken for a Fourth of July open house for the larger Orlando community.
The celebration, the first of its kind for central Florida’s burgeoning Muslim community, was as much about allowing non-Muslims to learn about them as it was about fireworks and flag-waving.
“We’re trying to break down stereotypes,” said Areej Zufari, director of communications for the group.
The war in Iraq and the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks left many American Muslims concerned about their acceptance in the United States. Last month, a Muslim woman in Freeport, Ill., and a Muslim man in San Diego were reported to have been attacked by people who shouted anti-Muslim slurs.
“There’s a lot going on in the world, and we thought this was an appropriate way to reaffirm our American values,” Zufari said.
During the celebration, a local broadcast personality read the Declaration of Independence, firefighters allowed children to explore a firetruck and children bounced on the moon-walk ride.
Small plastic American flags were draped along fences leading to the center’s main building. Tables were set up to register voters and to solicit blood donors for the American Red Cross, which was receiving the proceeds from the festival. Children waited in line beside the cotton candy machine.
A fierce thunderstorm moved the festival inside, but it didn’t dampen any spirits.
Ann Franklin and her husband, David Peiper, brought their two children.
“Under what circumstances would I have a chance to come here? C’mon, I’m Jewish,” said Franklin, a financial adviser whose mother is friends with Zufari’s mother.
Franklin said she was impressed that the Muslim community had the courage to open their doors to the public.
“It takes some guts because they don’t know who is going to show up,” Franklin said.