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Outreach requires openness

— In conjunction with our feature story this week, writer Amanda Gormley sat down with editor Ami Olson to record The Eagle’s first podcast. The interview centers around how Amanda found herself an Islam convert, after being raised by a rather devout Christian family. It’s a story she’s very open about sharing, and listeners can find the recorded interview online at theeaglecny.com.

One thing that stuck with us after the interview was that Amanda put the onus on the Muslim community to reach out and make sure they are understood by, and welcoming to, the greater population.

Rather than expect non-Muslims to take the initiative to learn for themselves about the culture and religion, Amanda said the responsibility lies on Muslims to be better at outreach and openness.

Later that day, the Islamic Society of Central New York invited guests to the mosque to share Iftar, a community meal, and learn more about the faith and the community, and we were also welcomed into the mosque. We’d like to thank the people of the ISCNY for their generosity and willingness to share with strangers some very personal stories and moments, and their patience as we photographed the Iftar and evening prayers.

On the other side of the city, entrepreneur and relative newcomer Demetrios Tsimis is also trying to engage the community and promote greater understanding. But he’s having a hard go of it.

Demetrios, like Amanda, wants to improve the perception the greater population has of a smaller sub-group, in this case, he hopes to show non-West Siders that the neighborhood has a lot to offer and “it isn’t what you think it is,” he says.

After a couple of weeks of very low turnout and various other obstacles, Demetrios wants to tackle his West Side Weekend concept from another angle – get all the West Side community groups together to hash out any problems up front, then work together to build it up.

Like the ISCNY, the first challenge Demetrios faces in accomplishing that task is getting people in the door. And somehow, between changing people’s misconceptions about a religion, and finding common ground upon which to improve a community, the ISCNY seems to have the more manageable task.

We wish Demetrios luck; he’s going to need it.

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