By Roy L. Williams
Director of Public Relations
Birmingham Public Library
The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is partnering with the Birmingham Islamic Society to host an in-depth discussion on Islam in the United States.
“The First Step: A Conversation on Islam in America” is the topic of BPL’s 14th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture which will be held Sunday, Jan. 15 at 3 p.m. in the Arrington Auditorium, 4th Floor of the Linn-Henley Research Building.
The address is 2100 Park Place in downtown Birmingham.
The MLK Memorial Lecture is free and open to the public.
The program will feature four young people from Birmingham’s Islamic community sharing their experiences and answering questions about their lives and their faith, said Jim Baggett, head of BPL’s Archives & Manuscripts Department.
“With this program we have looked at civil rights as well as human rights,” Baggett said. “That led us this year to look at an issue important in this area and around the world – Islamophobia.”
The BPL decided to explore Islam in America before it became an issue in the presidential election, Baggett said.
Ashfaq Taufique, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society, said the topic is timely since many followers of the Islamic faith are worried about the rhetoric surrounding Muslims in the U.S.
Taufique and Baggett said they hope the MLK Lecture sparks a positive conversation on Islam in Alabama.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., though known mostly for his fight for civil rights in Birmingham and elsewhere, was also active in the fight for human rights, Baggett said. He referred to Dr. King’s famous quote, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
“The first step for people who want to understand each other is to talk and ask questions,” Baggett said. “We hope people will attend the MLK Lecture with an open mind about Islam in America and join the conversation.”
Taufique said the Birmingham Islamic Society is proud to partner with BPL. The Islamic Society provides resources for Muslims and educates the residents about the Islamic faith in metro Birmingham and across central Alabama, he said.
“We do a lot of outreach to the community so that we become the voice who speaks for Islam rather than politics and television,” Taufique said. “We’ve got great interfaith partners who support us. When the Birmingham Public Library approached us about this, we were so fortunate to have been invited and to have someone help us make our voices heard.
“One of the things that is lacking is conversation and dialogue. This provides an opportunity to talk to each other,” he said.
Baggett said BPL has been planning this program for a year. Their original concept was to invite a scholar to discuss Islam in America. “But in recent months we evolved and wanted it to be more of a conversation,” he said. “We wanted it to involve young people in many communities in the Birmingham area. We hope it will encourage a dialogue and hopefully some understanding.”
Taufique said it is important to address the issue of Islam in America with an open dialogue. He hopes “this conversation is not going to only bring people who are like-minded, but people who are diverse in their thinking together,” he said.
“People who really think Islam is part of the problem can get to know their neighbors, know the girls and boys who go to school with their children, who play basketball with their children,” Taufique said. “Once we personalize ourselves in the position of others, we can truly develop a better understanding of each other.”
The Birmingham Public Library has been hosting the MLK Lecture every weekend of the MLK Holiday since 2002. Past speakers have included scholars discussing the civil rights movement, community leaders, and activists talking about issues such as human trafficking.
For more information about the MLK Lecture, call Jim Baggett at 205-226-3631 or email him at email@example.com.