You may see it as just another van with decals.
But think of it as an innovative billboard, a message and a mission for non-Muslim Americans on the busy streets, roads and interstates of the Queen City — everything you wanted to know about Islam but were afraid to ask.
Charlotte-based American Islamic Outreach Foundation recently purchased a 12-seat Mercedes Sprinter van and dressed it up. Its primary goal is to help non-Muslims get direct answers to pertinent questions of one of the world’s largest growing religions. With it comes a free copy of the Quran, Islam’s primary holy book, and other Islamic literature upon request.
But beyond that, the van looks to be a resource where questions can be answered and barriers or fears and Islamophobia are broken down. Members of the non-profit group explained their new ride before an interfaith event called “Islamophobia” at the Great Aunt Stella Center Saturday.
“We are trying to make a difference in the best way we can,” group spokeswoman Shannon Hossain said. “In fact, we are speaking up to clarify and represent the truth about Islam in many different ways, too. We just need more visibility. We need more people to take notice.”
Hossain said that the van’s mission is just one way the nearly 4-year-old outreach group hopes to break down barriers between Muslims and non-Muslims in the wake of recent vocal opposition in Arizona and New York.
“The Quran Mobile is another big step in that direction,” she said. “That is why were so excited and faithful to God to be able to introduce the Quran Mobile in Charlotte.”
Though the effort is in an early stage, director Zahir Shaikh backed the van’s purpose, instilling the need of Islam to be visible in the community in addition to the group’s already-established outreach. More vans, however, could be in store for the future.
“(The Quran Mobile) is the first of its kind,” Shaikh said. “We don’t know of a similar project at least in the Southeast if not in the United States, where a (American Muslim) group has put its resources together; to really travel the streets and break down a lot of misconceptions.”
“This is a way to get people talking (about Islam).”
Hossain said van staff would be able to answer religious questions to anyone who came up to ask.
“We believe that you deserve to know the truth,” he said. “What better way to get answers to your questions than through the direct source.”
“What we’ve learned is that we need to reach out and get to know one another,” Hossian said. “We fear what we do not know… With the turbulent times we live in, you may ask yourself questions like who we are, what do Muslims believe, what are the teachings of Islam, should you fear Islam and should you fear your brothers and sisters in humanity who chose to practice Islam?”
The Quran Mobile started its dawah, or outreach mission, during the first week of June and the group hopes to use the van to transport the elderly and visiting religious leaders and as a mobile clinic for women as seats can be removed. Leaders also hope to bring the van to local fairs and regional carnivals.