What Makes Chicago Click for Muslims?

By Ansari, Kiran | Islamic Horizons, July/August 2010 | Go to article overview

What Makes Chicago Click for Muslims?


Ansari, Kiran, Islamic Horizons


Windy City. Second City. President's City. This is how the world knows Chicago, But for North American Muslims, Chicago holds even more importance: Seven of the world's most influential Muslims, recognized in a Georgetown University study, such as Dr. Abidullah Ghazi, Eboo Patel and Rami Nashashibi all hail from Chicago. Such nationally recognized organizations as the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), IQRA, Sound Vision, and InterfaithYouthCore (IFYC) also call Chicago home. The nation's first green mosque is located there, as is the first liaison to the governor for Muslim affairs. And, Chicago has the distinction of having hosted the most ISNA conventions.

Perhaps one of the reasons why Chicago is a nucleus for Muslim Americans is deep dish pizza, or Devon Avenue's ethnic flavors along with Michigan Avenue's glitz and glamour (making Chicago a rich blend of East and West), or the legacy of the indigenous Muslim population and contributions of the Nation of Islam and Imam W.D. Mohammed's community. Or, it might be due to the presence of the Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA), the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of North America (IFANCA), and the Muslim Bar Association.

Whatever the reason might be, if you think Chicago's Muslim community has a powerful history, its future looks even brighter. The following collage of stories and pictures reveal why close to 400,000 Muslims are proud to call this city home. It is not unusual to see a session on Politics 101 following a Qur'an tafseer class, nor for khateebs to encourage congregants to vote, sign redistricting forms, or join the community for advocacy activities at the Capitol. Over the past few years, local Muslims have made significant strides in civic engagement. Spearheaded by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC; www.ciogc.org), their voice is beginning to be heard in the political arena. This federation of fifty-five member mosques, Islamic schools, social service organizations, and professional associations of attorneys and physicians has a vision: it wants to be the unifying federation of Greater Chicago's Islamic organizations, the leading advocate of the community's interests, and a catalyst for enriching American society. While mosques do not endorse a particular political party or candidate, as they are nonprofits, they do encourage people to vote, run for office, or make a difference in another way.

In 2009, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) appointed Samreen Khan as a liaison to Muslims and Asians. For the past several months, Khan, who is also the governor's senior policy advisor, has been working with community leaders and coalition partners to gather data, help form committees to deal with important issues (e.g., refugee resettlement), and conduct a Muslim census and foster care services for the community.

"When the Governor saw the 12,000 Muslims convene in Toyota Park for Eid prayer, the strength and diversity of the community really made an impact," she reflected. "This is the first such appointment in the nation, and I hope I can help the Muslim community meet their goals. ... We are hopefully past the stage where people do not even know who their state representative is. However, our community still needs to be more informed about state budgets, how bills can affect them. Hopefully with organizations like the Council and CAIR-Chieago, we can encourage the community to take the political activism up a notch."

Due to the Council's immense work, led by its current chairperson Dr. Zaher Sahloul (president, the Mosque Foundation [www.mosquefoundation.org]) along with its sister organization United Power for Action and Justice (www.unitedpower.org), nine Muslims were recently appointed to state boards and commissions; several more positions are being considered. Although these positions are unpaid, they are excellent ways to influence policy and make a difference.

The community is learning that citizen advocacy is more than just voting for your president once every four years; it is something every American has a right to practice. …

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