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Muhammad topic of campaign
Chicago Tribune
February 19, 2006

By Margaret Ramirez

Published February 19, 2006

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chicago/chi-0602190366feb19,1,1476203.story?coll=chi-newslocalchicago-hed

See Event Photos

Responding to the controversy over cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, the Chicago chapter of a prominent Islamic civil rights group is participating in a yearlong campaign to educate the public on his life and legacy.

The educational initiative, announced Tuesday by the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, will kick off with a new Web site (www.exploremuhammad.com) that offers visitors a free book or DVD on the prophet.

The site also features a 13-minute clip from the DVD, which originally aired as a PBS documentary, and excerpts from the book "Muhammad" by Yahiya Emerick.

In Chicago, Muslim activists have planned a Saturday evening news conference at the Islamic Foundation of Villa Park to introduce the "Explore the Life of Muhammad" campaign. Afterward, hundreds of Muslim leaders and community members will gather for a town hall meeting to discuss the cartoons.

"I think it's important to find out what the community is feeling right now," said Ahmed Rehab, spokesman for the Chicago chapter of CAIR. "We need to discuss these issues to talk about how we can prevent such acts of bigotry in the future.

"We also need to find out how we have failed to educate and communicate our faith to the outside world."

The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published the cartoons Sept. 30. One caricature portrayed the prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb. As the cartoons circulated across the Muslim world, rage has led to protests and violence.

In the U.S., most news organizations, including the Tribune, have decided against publishing the images.

But two local universities, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northern Illinois University, have sparked anger and debate by publishing the cartoons in their daily student newspapers. In response, the publisher of the Daily Illini suspended student editor Acton Gorton after the cartoons were published. On Wednesday Gorton struck back, saying he had hired a Chicago-based Muslim-American civil rights attorney, Junaid Afeef, to defend him.

Rehab said Afeef would attend the town hall meeting to discuss the cartoons.

Following international protests over claims that American personnel had desecrated the Koran at Guantanamo Bay, CAIR launched an "Explore the Koran" campaign offering free copies of the holy text to Americans of all faiths. To date, more than 27,000 Korans have been requested, officials said.

The latest campaign is being administered by CAIR regional offices in 30 cities, including Chicago.

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maramirez@tribune.com



Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune