On the first day of school, Alicia Kramer asked her 10th-grade World History students at Oakland Catholic High School what their impressions were of various world religions. Their answers about Islam worried her.
"They've seen the news -- they called them extremists," Kramer says.
So, for the second year running, she offered extra credit to students who attended an open house at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh in Oakland, held this year on Sept. 21.
"Part of being a good Catholic is trying to understand others," she says. "This really turns that light on."
The open house, in its fourth year, was initially a response to anti-Muslim sentiment following Sept. 11, 2001 -- "the event" as Ahmed Abdelwahab, Islamic Center president, calls it. "We are continuing to do our modest part to remove ignorance about Islam," Abdelwahab says. "I think people deep inside want to see for themselves" what Islam is about, and the similarities that exist between Islam and other religions, he adds.
Board member and past president of the Islamic Center Adel Fergany was pleased with the large, diverse turnout.
"We need to know our neighbors, they need to know us," Fergany said. "We'd like them to come here and see us living the faith."
Twenty-five of Kramer's students joined about 400 other people at the open house. They quizzed young Muslims about the role of women in Islam, similarities between the three major Middle Eastern religions, sampled food and witnessed a dozen men bowing toward Mecca in prayer.
"It's nice to be able to ask some actual people and see what they do in life," says Colleen Cwenar, an Oakland Catholic 10th grader.
Sara Mahmud, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, is used to answering questions about Islam. She began wearing traditional modest Muslim garb, including a headscarf, about a month before graduating from Gateway High School in Monroeville.
"In high school, I used to be the typical teen-ager, just chilling," she says. "I've learned over time to break it down. People have a lot of questions. I can totally understand where everyone's coming from."