Members of the Islamic community say recent attacks around the world, and a divisive political climate, harm their image. They want Americans to separate them from the few extremists using Islam as the reason for their violence. Our Jeff Stensland explains a national push to educate non-Muslims about their neighbors.
AUSTIN, Texas -- The Nueces Mosque is Austin's first mosque. It opened in 1988 a couple blocks west of the University of Texas at Austin campus.
Since then, about a half dozen mosques and Islamic cultural centers have opened across the region.
But Imam Shaykh Mohamed-Umer Esmail says this may be the most challenging time to be a Muslim in America.
"Whenever you see one in a thousand with a Hijab on, immediately you are taken back to what you see on TV," he said.
Esmail referred to one of the attackers in San Bernardino last month -- a woman wearing a Hijab, who wrote that he planned to kill in the name of Islam.
In the weeks since, politicians have contemplated outright bans of people based on their faith.
"Muslim-Americans are very concerned with the recent rise in violence and hatred directed at our community members," said Altaf Husain with the Islamic Society of North America.
Husain is calling on Muslims nationwide to reach out to their neighbors and dispel the misconceptions.
The U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations wants to register a million new voters before November and hosts open mosque days.
Esmail said events at Neuces Mosque have educated many non-Muslims.
"We have to transform the challenges into opportunities," he said.
Esmail said Islam teaches to combat evil with kindness. He hopes the Islamic community of Central Texas will be encouraged to have more outreach efforts.
"Many members of the Austin community from all walks of life -- religious and non-religious -- have reached out to us," said Esmail.
Starting a conversation he says breaks down barriers created by misunderstanding.
Religious leaders say they want to stop radicalization caused by isolation.
They're calling on people of all faiths nationwide to watch for people who've been marginalized and try to include them.