You couldn't miss it. In red and yellow letters draped over a table outside the entrance to the was an eye-popping offer: "Free Quran."
It is the Muslim bible, and the people behind the effort seemed a bit out of place. Had they been selling Girl Scout cookies, or promoting Little League signups, no one would have raised an eyebrow. But the offer of literature from the Islamic Circle of North America—pamphlets as well as the Quran—made the Thursday scene unique.
Mohammad Mazhar is part of ICNA's Why Islam program. Other arms of the organization offer American relief and international help. His goal on Thursday—and again today from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.—is to share an explanation of Islam. If he can dispel even one stereotype along the way, he said, it was a successful day at the office.
He and Orange County colleague Raihana—she wouldn't provide her last name—said setting up a table outside a library makes perfect sense. They weren't there to approach people, but to instead respond to anyone who sought answers or information.
Mazhar said it's the first time the organization has been to Rancho Santa Margarita. They have set up in shopping centers in Mission Viejo, and have had booths at the Irvine Spectrum and Fashion Island.
"We are looking for the readers," Raihana said. "We've been in the malls, but when you're in the mall, people are interested in shopping. At the library people are interested in reading, are more intellectual."
Mazhar said the reaction Thursday at the library was good, and over six hours they gave away "eight or nine" copies of the Quran.
"There's a lot of misinformation about the Quran," he said. "People mix up the culture of a country and Islam, which is a religion. ... They hear it from the media, which doesn't always tell the truth.
"Most people are well-educated and they want to know what Islam is, especially the youth. They're open-minded and want to know. They can pick up a pamphlet and ask questions."
The pamphlets on display covered a number of subjects, including the relationship of Muslims to Christians and Jews, human rights, status of women, the afterlife, worship and one titled "What does Islam say about terrorism?"
Included in the latter: "Often, the religion of Islam is held responsible for the acts of a fringe minority among Muslims."
Mazhar said he and Raihana talked to about 15 people who approached them, and that a primary interest was understanding Islam and clarifying what it is.
"We just give the message of Islam," Mazhar said, "we don't talk politics."
ICNA sought permission to go to the libraries, but learned that it wasn't necessary. They have a legal right to be on the premises, which was explained to them by Paula Bruce, assistant librarian for the Orange County Public Library system.
"I've asked them to let me know where they're going to be and when so that I can make the staff aware that they have a legal right to be there," Bruce said. "So far, they have complied."
In addition to Rancho Santa Margarita, ICNA has been to four other libraries in the OC Public Library system, according to Bruce, as well as others outside the system. She has yet to hear of an incident.
Inside the RSM branch, librarian Sheila Stone said she hadn't heard of any complaints about ICNA's presence outside the front entry.
"Their goal in doing the tabling is to provide educational material to the public about Islam, and we do periodically get organizations that are interested in tabling in front of the library," Bruce said. "Any public place, they have the right to be as long as they're not interfering with the flow of traffic or accosting people. No one is obligated to take the literature.
"Some people are curious and find it interesting, but there have been no real complaints."