When he's not teaching students in a classroom, he's leading them in church services. Dotzel organized a post-Sept. 11 memorial service held at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City. The service, which Dotzel said included prayers from “as many faith traditions as we could get on the podium,” was attended by over 3,000 people just three days after the attacks. It included services from the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Native American, Buddhist and Ba ha’i faiths.
While Dotzel focuses primarily on the student populations, Elkaldy gives his presentations to a wide range of groups. In 2006, he stepped down from his role as imam at the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids and became the president of the Iowa chapter of the Muslim American Society.
The MAS will, on nearly a daily basis, give presentations on any number of Islamic topics. At first, the MAS primarily gave general overviews of Islam, but recently the presentations have been focused on how Islam relates to other religions.
In addition to typical speaking to various church congregations, Elkhaldy said the MAS regularly talks to many law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, U.S. Marshalls and the Iowa Department of Corrections, often touching on religious sensitivity and understanding personal biases. Many churches are also requesting one-on-one meetings with their own religious leaders.
But not everything the MAS does is centered around religion. Elkhaldy said one of the main missions of the MAS is to promote community service and help solve social issues. Anti-drug education, food drives, school supply assistance along with many other projects are common MAS projects.
Elkhaldy says this community outreach is part of the Muslim tradition, with an inherent responsibility to help maintain their community in a positive way.
Other area organizations share these goals.
In Iowa City, the Consultation of Religious Communities (CRC) has much the same mission. Once a month, religious leaders and representatives from various faith traditions, including Islam, Judaism and Christianity, meet and discuss religious and social issues.
The CRC has a number of projects it currently oversees, including a free lunch program, distribution of winter coats, assistance to the homeless shelters during high-traffic times and an annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration. The CRC also has several seasonal activities, such as providing school supplies to needy families and providing parents with holiday gifts for their children if they can't afford them on their own.
Some churches, however, are reluctant to participate in some interfaith dialogue. Parkview Church, the largest evangelical church in Iowa City, is one such church. It does not currently participate in any meeting groups similar to the CRC.
“Rather than being part of a committee that looks good on paper, I would prefer one-on-one relationships with people of other faiths,” said Andy Kampman, the minister for missions and outreach at Parkview. “We want to get to know them, know their families and have fellowships and discussions. The more people you from different backgrounds, the more difficult it is to get somewhere. When you have a large group, everyone comes with misconceptions, with an agenda.”
Kampman, who said he has been to the mosque in Iowa City in the past, said he feels no animosity toward Muslims.
“Muslims are not our enemies. One in five people on Earth is a Muslim. If God made that many Muslims, he must love Muslims,” he said.
The misconceptions that Kampman mentions are starting to disappear in the community, according Elkhaldy. He sees young people who were adolescents at the time of Sept. 11 now entering college — and doing so with an increased awareness of religious and cultural issues.
“It did not surprise me that this generation is more likely to trust in this relationship [with many different religions],” Elkhaldy said. “With the age we live in — with the Internet, the satellites — I think it makes it difficult for isolation.”
Elkhaldy doesn’t blame previous generations for not being as open-minded when it comes to religious involvement within the community. “To some, [community] work is for Lutherans and Methodists — not even Protestants and Catholics. No wonder that when it comes to Islam, it's beyond their imagination,” he says.
On a national level, both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities have been participating in this type of open dialogue. In 2004, Liyakatali Takim, Ph.D., published an article in “The Muslim World” about the increase in religious dialogue.
“The increased dialogue and interaction between Muslims and Christians represents a significant paradigm shift, a shift from attempts at ‘conversion of’ to those of ‘conversation with’ the other,” he wrote in his article entitled “From Conversion to Conversation: Interfaith Dialogue in Post 9-11 America.”
Spending every day educating the community, Elkhaldy continues to work to change many misconceptions about Islam. But he isn't necessarily concerned with the immediate outcome of his work.
“I'm like a farmer; I plant the seed, give it water, then go back home and ask G od to bless my seed to be a fruitful tree,” he said
“It’s obvious that the sincere believer should do his best, and ask God to bless his work, that’s it.”
Additional reporting by Lyombe Eko