Penn Square Mall will feature animated film on Muhammad.

An Oklahoma City mosque has responded with hip-hop, comedians and now cartoons to new evidence that Americans harbor negative opinions about Islam.

The Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City brought Muslim stand-up comics and rappers to the University of Central Oklahoma on April 8. Now the mosque at 3815 N St. Clair has rented a theater at Penn Square Mall this weekend and invited the public to see an animated, feature-length film about the prophet Muhammad.

The goal is to show the softer side of Islam, said Imad Enchassi, the imam, or religious leader, of the metro area’s largest mosque.

“It’s to personalize a Muslim and humanize a Muslim, so to speak. We’ve been dehumanized so much,” Enchassi said.

Most Americans hear the word “Muslim” and picture a suicide bomber or someone with an automatic rifle pointed at an innocent person, Enchassi said.

“You don’t associate the word ‘Muslim’ with a cartoon or a comedy or an entertainment,” he said. “In order to combat this Islamaphobia that’s been going around, we decided to show our real side to the community.”

A national survey released last month by the Council on American-Islamic Relations showed almost half of Americans have a negative perception of Islam. A second survey released the same day by the Washington Post and ABC News found that a quarter of Americans have “extreme” anti-Muslim views.

On other fronts, U.S. troops flushed Islam’s holy book, the Quran, down toilets, Iraqi mosques were bombed and European newspapers ran cartoons that Muslims believe dishonored their prophet.

Enchassi said American Muslims could respond with demonstrations, “or we could face this wickedness with positiveness. We decided to do the latter.”

Non-Muslim appeal

More than 100 non-Muslims were among 500 people who bought tickets to the Islamic entertainment night at UCO, which featured the hip-hop group Native Deen and comics from “Allah Made Me Funny: The Official Muslim Comedy Tour.”

Saad Mohammed, spokesman for the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, spoke afterward to one group from Tulsa.

“They said they were surprised to hear Muslims have such entertainment. They think we just sit in a mosque all day,” he said.

To be sure of a mixed audience of Muslims and non-Muslims at this weekend’s movie showings, Enchassi has challenged his own daughters to invite two friends each from the neighborhood.

“This is not an effort to convert anyone,” Enchassi said. “This is an effort to bring a common understanding to a religion that has been misunderstood and misportrayed in the media.”

For Muslims, the movie is a morale booster, Enchassi said. “For non-Muslims, it’s, ‘Here we are. We’re your neighbors. We’re your pharmacists. We’re your co-workers,'” he said.

Because the movie is animated, Islamic leaders expect many children in the audience. That will be fine with Enchassi.

“If we can start with a new generation and show them what Islam and Muslims are all about, maybe when they grow up they will understand more,” he said.