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Six years ago, Shaaban Naim and other leaders of the newly formed Islamic Society of Southwest Washington thumbed through the telephone book looking for potential members.

    "Any name that resembled what we might think was somebody from overseas or from the Middle East, we would call and ask (if that person was a Muslim)," Naim said, laughing a bit at the memory. "We would tell them who we are, that we had a mosque with weekly prayers and school. That is actually how our place started being known."

    Christian churches dominate Clark County, but other faiths also weigh issues of outreach and marketing, as illustrated by Naim's phone-book search for new members.

    Naim credits the informal telephone campaign for some of his group's growth. The Islamic Society has grown from 50 families to more than 200 families in the past six years. Another important factor: "We got listed in the Yellow Pages," Naim said. "That by itself helped a lot of people find us, especially people who were considering taking jobs here, wondering if there was a mosque."

    Julian Levi was part of the group that in 1990 formed the Jewish Community Association of Southwest Washington. Now known as Congregation Kol Ami, the group is in the process of hiring a rabbi.

    While the group has grown more organized, its size has remained fairly stable, at about 100 families.

    "We've added many people over the years, but we've also had families move out of the area," Levi said, adding that his group has used newspaper advertising and word of mouth as its most prominent outreach tools. "It's not so bad now, but people used to phone up and say, 'We never even knew there was a Jewish organization in town,'" Levi said.

    Levi said the hiring of a rabbi, which may happen by the end of this year, likely will spark more growth.

    "We'll attract people we're missing when we have that leadership in place," Levi said. "It's like people who might not be inclined to join a church without a priest."

    Another growing group is the Baha'i Faith. The Baha'i Faith draws from the messages of Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Mohammed, Zoroaster and, most recently, Baha'u'llah.

    Joe Straub, active in the local Baha'i community, said the group has more than doubled, to 200, in the past five years. Word of mouth, newspaper articles and community activities have helped with that growth, Straub said.

    The larger religious body also has engaged in a national ad campaign. Portland and Vancouver Baha'i groups are using free cable-access channels to spread the word.

    "We've had an awful lot of inquiries from that (the cable show)," Straub said. "We feel pretty fortunate about that."

©Copyright 2002, Columbian

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