New leader for growing Ohio Muslim community

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CINCINNATI (AP) -- Among the tasks ahead for the new leader of a large and growing Islamic Center in southwest Ohio is increasing understanding of Muslims.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports (http://cin.ci/1iWqoDT) that Shakila Ahmad becomes the first woman to hold the role of president in the 18-year history of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati. She got involved early at the center, offering to arrange tours that have drawn tens of thousands of visitors over the years.

Nearly two decades later, she says education and promoting inclusiveness remain important because much work needs to be done, as Muslims still face harassment and social isolation.

"It's been tremendously difficult for me as a Muslim American," said the Cincinnati native and University of Cincinnati graduate. "As much progress as we're making, there is two-fold the work that has to be done. There are those who desire to push Muslim Americans to the side."

She said Muslim children are harassed in school, and she worries about young professionals entering the workforce.

She wants to strengthen ties with other mosques, make the center a supportive and inclusive place, support anti-bullying programs and promote education about Muslims among non-Muslims.

"We're not the same, but we have far more in common than we have differences," she said.

The center has a major social services initiative called Rahma, or mercy, to connect families with physical and mental health services, and has a bullying prevention program, leadership training for youth, and interfaith women's groups.

The mosque sees up to 3,000 Muslims involved on holy days, and there are an estimated 25,000 Muslims in the region.

She said at the end of her two-year term, "I hope that I'll love the community, the center and the city even more -- and that the greater community will love and appreciate their Muslim American neighbors."

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Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com