Picnic showcases mainstream Islam in Northern Virginia

October 1, 2011

One day after al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, Northern Virginia Muslims gathered for an event that was both a community gathering and an effort to portray a version of Islam much different from the one he espoused.

The timing of Saturday’s annual Civic Picnic of the All Dulles Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Sterling, which attracted about 200 people, was purely coincidental. But in recent years, it has become an important component of the community’s outreach efforts.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, taught many American Muslims that they needed to become more engaged with their communities, said Wasim Entabi of Alexandria.

“Everybody realized we did a really bad job of putting a positive image out there of who we are,” said Entabi, who sees an upswing in voter registration among Northern Virginia Muslims.

As Awlaki, once an imam at Falls Church’s Dar al-Hijrah mosque, rose to prominence in al-Qaeda, the picnic — which started in 2000 — became a kind of showcase for moderate, mainstream Islam in the Washington area. It attracts hundreds of Muslims, politicians and people of other faiths each year.

On Saturday, Robert Morro, a member of the ADAMS board, looked out at some of the roughly 30 politicians and many more Muslims who had gathered for the event. He said some people in the community have suspicions about what goes on at the group’s Sterling center.

The politicians — and anyone else who is interested — are invited to visit the center, Morro said.

“Our doors are always open,” he said.

The society presented a $10,000 donation, raised by its members, for the Virginia Disaster Relief Fund to a representative of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) on Saturday. The money was intended for Virginians whose homes were damaged in this year’s flooding.

During the event, money was also raised for charities in Pakistan and Somalia.

People sat around tables eating as politicians made stump speeches and children played.

ADAMS President Farooq Syed said he was relieved that Awlaki had been killed but troubled by the way the United States carried out the attack — Awlaki was a U.S. citizen — without full judicial proceedings.

“We are grateful a voice of hatred has been silenced,” Syed said. “We must also maintain a balance between national security and personal liberties.”

ADAMS, founded in the late 1970s, counts more than 5,000 families in its membership. It has seven branches across Northern Virginia. The organization invites interfaith groups, neighbors and others to its picnics.

Larry Roeder, a Democratic candidate for the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, said he came to the picnic to support the work ADAMS had done in the community and to express solidarity with the Muslim community.

“The Islamophobia you see out there is distressing to me,” Roeder said. “I’ve made it a point to say I’m with the people here.”

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