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Series boosts cultural understanding

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 2:00 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – Learning the histories, faith and cultures of Muslim peoples is the main purpose behind “Bridging Cultures: Muslim Journeys Bookshelf,” a scholar-led program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association.

The DeKalb Public Library and Kishwaukee College were among the 953 organizations throughout the U.S. to be awarded grants.

According to DeKalb children’s librarian Steve Roman, there were actually two grants. The first was to secure a variety of books and films, which are currently on display on the library’s main floor. The second was to host a series of monthly programs to discuss specific books. The final presentation will be on “The Butterfly Mosque” by G. Willow Wilson at 7 p.m. Feb. 26. Northern Illinois University professor Ismael Montana will lead the discussion.

“This is an attempt to better educate the U.S. about Muslims,” Roman said.

Library public relations director Edith Craig said the program seemed like a good idea because DeKalb has a relatively large Muslim population, and a new mosque is under construction.

“We try to reach the underserved of our community,” she said. “We thought this would be a great opportunity to learn about the Muslim faith.”

Roman added that since some people “were less than kind” about the new mosque, he thought the program could help bridge the cultural gap.

“Because we live in a globalized world, people from different countries need to know more about each other’s culture,” said Northern Illinois University professor Orayb Najjar, one of the scholars who has led the program’s discussions. “I see this as an opportunity to discuss various facets of Arab/Muslim lives in a non-stereotypical manner. The library’s effort is similar to attempts by several U.S. administrations to explain various facets of American life to Muslims and Arabs to dispel existing stereotypes about Americans.”

Since many Americans do not have the chance to travel and meet people from Arab cultures, Najjar said such programs are important to separate fact from myth.

“Some people understand Arab-Muslim cultures, but most get their views about them from entertainment and from persistent stereotypes, rather than from first-hand knowledge of Arab and/or Muslim cultures,” she said.

Kishwaukee College library reference assistant Rebecca Hodson said the college held a single event last fall.

“The motivation was to promote different cultural events in the area and offer interesting programs to the students in the community,” she said.

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