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Chicagoland Area Muslim Leaders Engage in Open Dialogue with Primary Election Candidates

By Sadiya Ahmed

With the 2006 March Primary election fast approaching, candidates from the Democrat and Republican parties are campaigning and reaching out to communities that have been hidden in the shadows. Among such communities is the Muslim community where candidates are seemingly enthusiastic about securing the Muslim vote. Meetings with Muslims leaders are being held to discuss the needs of the Muslim constituents.

The first of many such open dialogue forums was held at the Downtown Islamic Center on Sunday December 11th, 2005 which was attended by a cohort of Muslim leaders from the Chicagoland community and candidates Ron Gidwtiz running for the Republican ticket for Governor and Steve Rauschenberger running for Lieutenant Governor. Issues discussed were those pertinent to the Muslim community as well as general state policies. As the focus shifted from economic policies concerning employment to civil liberties, Rauschenberger commented that “[the] sacrifice of civil liberties in pursuit of security is a big mistake”.

When asked about the practice of racial profiling and the results found by the Illinois Department of Transportation’s 2004 Statistical Study on traffic stops made by law enforcement officials, Gidwitz suggested that legislation for accountability and prevention both exist in the system but there is a lack of practice. The study, released in July 2005 as part of a pilot program, confirms the widely held belief that racial profiling is a pressing issue for the minority community. When a suggestion to institute cultural sensitivity training into the general policies of law enforcement was made, both candidates seemed receptive.

Candidates, when faced with issues of morality, emphasized what seems to be the motto of the campaign: “We want to change the culture of politics in Illinois”, advocating change by ‘doing the right thing’. Other issues that were discussed included Illinois’ economic policies, open dialogue between the Muslim community and governmental agencies, and education where the issue of sensitivity training was brought up again. The candidates’ forum was the first of many scheduled to take place between candidates and Muslim community leaders as election time approaches. Ahmed Rehab, Director of Communications at CAIR-Chicago, cautions “Although its politics 101, that you don’t judge a candidate for public office by their words but by their actions, it is important that you engage in open dialogue whereby they underscore issues important to our community.”

The forum was attended by representatives from Afghan News Network, Arabic Radio Talk Show, Urdu Times Chicago, Islamic Circle of North America, Muslim Civil Rights Center, (MCRC), Council On American-Islamic Relations, (CAIR), American Muslim Alliance Midwest, (AMA), Midwest Masoom Association (Ma'soom), Pakistan Peoples Party Chicago, Coalition of Pakistani Organizations Chicago, United Muslims American Association (UMMA), Office of First District Congressman Bobby Rush, East West University, Pakistani Business Association Chicago. The outcome of the primaries will determine which candidates will advance in the November 2006 elections for governor and lieutenant governor on each party’s ticket.

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