Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community collective received an "amazing response" to their Sunday morning visit to Taranaki, says Imam Sabah Al-Zafar.
Sabah and other members of the collective were at the Seaside Market at Ngamotu Beach on Sunday, ready to answer "any and all" questions about Islam.
"We want to break down stereotypes and to take away any negativity people might have around Islam and Muslims. We know most people, when they have that negativity or believe in a stereotype, it comes from them not having actually met people from that group or faith."
The collective started an initiative called 'Meet a Muslim' in 2017, with the aim to build bridges, remove misunderstandings and give people the opportunity to find out more about Islam in a free and open environment. Another successful nationwide drive took place in mid-2021, where they visited every city in New Zealand in just 21 days, says Sabah.
"It is all part of an ongoing effort to educate the public on the true and peaceful teachings of Islam, but also to build bridges and lasting friendships.
On Sunday, the group had a tent set up at the Seaside Market with a range of information on display about Islam, as well as copies of the Kuranu Tapu, the te reo Māori translation of the Holy Quran.
"It is really important that people can access the actual teaching of Islam, and the only way to do that is to read the Holy Quran. So many times, someone misrepresents Islam saying it teaches something, when actually it doesn't. We encourage people to actually look in the Holy Quran to see what Islam really says about something."
Sabah says if people don't know any Muslims themselves, then the only information they get about Islam or Muslims comes from the news media.
"And that can mean they hear about groups like Isis or the Taliban, who are misusing and misrepresenting the Islamic faith for their own motive. The reality is these groups are not acting in an Islamic way. They are doing things for geopolitical reasons, for reasons that are nothing to do with our faith - but they use the name of Islam, and that is what people hear about in connection to the Muslim religion."
Sabah says the community response to their presence on Sunday was "very positive".
People have come and asked questions, and we have had no negativity from people at all. There is still work to be done of course, to give everyone the opportunity to find out about our faith, to ask questions, and hopefully, to therefore break down any barriers or stereotypes that exist."
He says anyone who wants to find out more can visit the website www.discoverislam.nz or www.facebook.com/DiscoverIslamNZ