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Muslims defying negative stereotypes
NEWARK — Wendy Chang shatters the stereotype of a meek Muslim woman the way a judo chop splits a piece of wood.
The 35-year-old nurse at Fremont Kaiser was raised Catholic by her parents, who emigrated from Beijing, but converted to Islam after she met her husband, Faisal Nsour, whose father moved to the United States from Jordan.
Today Chang, a Redwood City native, wears a traditional Islamic head scarf but can accessorize with a second-degree black belt in martial arts, which she's studied since a co-worker stalked her 12 years ago.
"It was a very threatening and scary experience," she said. "I decided I needed to take control of my life again."
Chang met Nsour, 30, during self-defense classes in Fremont and now teaches occasional empowerment sessions for Muslim women in Hayward. The couple have a 5-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl, and the family expects to become a quintet in three months.
Chang shared her story at a media networking breakfast called "American Muslims, American Stories." About 40 local Muslims and reporters hobnobbed at the event Thursday morning at the Newark-Fremont Hilton.
The organizers stressed that mainstream media tend to generalize about all followers of Islam when they report on terrorism by Muslim perpetrators.
"When you constantly associate a religion with a negative term, people think that's the norm," said Safaa Ibrahim, executive director of the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic
Similarly, she said the Virginia Tech gunman justified his rampage as a Jesus-like defense of the weak, but he is perceived not as a martyr but a madman.
"Muslims see these terrorists the same way," she said. "We see them as criminals warping our faith."
CAIR, a national nonprofit, unveiled several examples of inspirational local Muslims who offer counterpoints to the extremist, anti-Western stereotypes of Islam promulgated by the media.
"We don't want to wait for bad news to happen so we can talk against it," Ibrahim said, admitting that it is hard to compete for media attention with bombs and bullets.
Branding goes a long way, though — case in point, Belmont's "snowboarding imam," Abdurrahman Anwar.
Born in San Jose to parents who moved from India, Anwar grew up the son of an imam, or mosque leader, and followed in his father's footsteps. He now directs the Peninsula's Yaseen Foundation, where he started a youth group for young Muslims.
"If they don't come to any community gatherings, they'll be out on the street," Anwar said.
So he took about 25 youngsters to the slopes and wound up with his own taste for powder runs. Anwar even has his own board, although he said he isn't a fanatic who watches competitions and keeps up with snowboard slang.
"I do it just as a sport, a day off," he said. "We're just waiting for the slopes to open up again."
Then there is Cub Scout Pack 399 of Santa Clara, a mostly Muslim group that is about as American as can be.
Committee Chairwoman Colleen Ali-Ahmad had two sons in the pack and attended Thursday's breakfast wearing a tan Scout shirt along with a head scarf.
CAIR promises to share more tales of diverse followers of Islam through its new "Extraordinary Muslims" story bank, containing suggestions for feature coverage.
"There's a lot of great news in the community," said Shafath Syed, president of the executive committee of Bay Area CAIR. "We want to share it with those around us."
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