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Diverse Panel Shares Differing Views Of Being Muslim In Kansas City

Steve Mencher
More than 150 people listened and asked questions about being Muslim in Metro KC.

At University of Missouri-Kansas City's Pierson Hall Monday, the group agreed on one thing - that the Kansas City area hasn't seen as much of a backlash against Muslims as there has been elsewhere in the country.

Mahnaz Shabbir, President of Shabbir Advisors and long engaged in interfaith advocacy, says people here are well informed.

"For more than 20 years we've been doing a lot of education on interfaith issues," she said in an interview.

But there was some sparring once the panel discussion got under way.

That's expected here. American Public  Square, the sponsor of the the event, is a civic organization that tackles controversial or polarizing topics.  Discussions have a moderator, a "civility bell" and fact checkers.

At one point Kansas Rep. Dick Jones, R-Topeka, referred to the hijab as a “costume.”

KU student and outreach coordinator of Muslim Youth of North America, Zoya Khan, had her head  covered in a black hijab.  She replied that her head scarf was not a costume but "part of who I am."  

Jones also said he supports the state ban on foreign (or Sharia) law. More than a dozen states, including Kansas, have passed such laws.

"Sharia law is pure Islamic," Jones said. "Does it take precedence over state and federal law in this country?  Many Muslims believe it does."  There was a call for fact checking on this claim.

Writer and producer Jack Cashill said while he might not agree with the ban on Sharia law, it's part of being  a democratic country.

"There are a lot of things that go on in Topeka that offend me,"he said. "But they're part of the price of living in a pluralistic society. I grin and bear it."

U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said he fears domestic terrorism more than terrorism from abroad.

On the subject of Syrian refugees, Grissom said he didn't see them as a threat.

"The vetting process from Turkey, Greece, Europe and the United States is thorough," he said. "I have confidence in what they're doing."

"Muslim In The Metro" was co sponsored by the KCPT's  Beyond Belief project, a collaboration between KCPT and AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. Find her at  lauraz@kcur.org or on twitter @laurazig.

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