Mosques, Islamic Schools Face Hard Road in Suburbs
Muslims move in, but facilities often fought
Invitations were delivered to every neighbor along Old Orchard Road in Harvard. But when the day arrived to meet the likely new owners of the brick church at the end of their street, no one showed up.
Hamid and Mazher Ahmed sat for hours inside the vacant church on a recent Saturday. The buffet of home-cooked Indian food grew cold, and they grew weary of trying to make an impression.
It was a sign, they said, that the plan to convert the former Episcopal church into an Islamic boarding school would face high hurdles. The neighbors hired an attorney to block the plan, and last week the city's Planning and Zoning Commission denied their request for a permit to open the school.
"We even went knocking door to door, but no one came out to talk with us," Mazher Ahmed said a few days after the commission's decision. "Maybe they weren't home."
As more Muslims make the suburbs their home--an estimated 400,000 in the Chicago area--they are clashing with their new neighbors over where to build mosques and schools. In Morton Grove, residents dragged out approval of a mosque for more than a year, leaving bruised feelings that have yet to heal. In Orland Park, some residents said they would not re-elect the mayor if he supported building a mosque.
Though the objections take the form of zoning concerns, some Muslim groups say such arguments are not merely not-in-my-back-yard sentiments but also the residue of Sept. 11, 2001, and the fear that mosques are sanctuaries for terrorists.
"I think more often than not, opposition to the construction of schools or mosques is Islamophobia, even though obviously no one will say that that is their reason," said Ahmed Rehab, a spokesman for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"Where do we go? This is our country, our community, our town and we're not allowed to have schools or mosques, the places that build communities? The reason is because of the fear that we are destroyers."
In Harvard, Joann Seyller said neighbors feel awful about being painted as fearing Muslims. She said residents had already hired an attorney by the time the Ahmeds invited them for a meeting at the church, and he advised them not to discuss the school issue.
They simply don't want the church and its adjacent five-bedroom parsonage to be converted into a boarding school, she said. About 70 residents showed up at last week's Planning Commission meeting.
Old Orchard Road is a winding street with well-kept, two-story homes and manicured lawns. It's home to Mayor-elect Jay Nolan, who lives across the street from the church.
180 Students Gather for Multimedia Presentation on the Muslim Experience Post 9-11
CAIR-Chicago's Outreach Coordinator, Dina Rehab, and Outreach Intern, Tamer Abouzeid, conducted an interactive multimedia presentation on the Muslim Experience Post 9-11 at a Chicago High School last Friday. Over the course of 3 class periods, approximately 180 students ranging from freshmen to seniors gathered in Englewood High School's auditorium for the discussion.
"Some of the perceptions harbored by students are wide off the mark," Dina Rehab said. "On the other hand, students showed an eagerness to learn and a willingness to reshape their views as eye-opening facts are presented to them". "When it comes to building a cohesive society that rises above fear and suspicion of the other, dialog and education are the best policies," Dina concluded. "We try to make the educational process fun yet relevant," Abouzeid added.
Civil Rights Update 5/4/05:
The following incidents were reported to CAIR-Chicago within the past two weeks:
- A student at a local university on an international student visa was arrested by officers of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). CAIR-Chicago located the detention facility where the student was being held and is following up on the case.
- A Jordanian male with permanent residence was arrested by the FBI who claimed to have a warrant for his arrest and seizure of his property from immigration, although they never showed the warrant to the man or his wife. The man’s permanent residence status was revoked and he is currently being held on bond. CAIR-Chicago located the detention facility where the man is being held and is currently working with an immigration attorney (with deportation defense specialty) to achieve a more reasonable bond so he could be released.
- A family with a child under the custody of a non-Muslim foster family have not been granted visitation with their child in three months despite a court order requiring visitation at least once a month. The child has been constantly exposed to the foster family’s religious practices, has been fed pork, and has developed bad social habits at age four, despite repeated requests by the parents to respect the family’s religion. CAIR-Chicago is in the process of contacting DCFS regarding the issue.
- A Muslim man was arrested by the FBI after an interview with them because there was an alleged problem with his Visa status. CAIR-Chicago worked to find an immigration attorney in Michigan, where the man is being held.
- A manager made discriminatory statements about a Muslim female employee to her co-workers and has been treating her badly since she began wearing a headscarf (Hijab). The manager would make comments such as “Muslim women are to stay home when they are covered up. Their husbands take care of them,” and “We are going to lose trustworthy customers due to them [human resources] hiring Muslims.”
- A Muslim woman was discriminated against by her manager with derogatory and disrespectful remarks about her culture, language, and religion. Her manager would make comments such as “your prayers are wasting company time” when she prays on her own break time. CAIR-Chicago is working with the woman in filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
- A Muslim family found three tires on their van slashed one morning and later that week the van and another family car were lit on fire. CAIR-Chicago is currently working with Chicago Ridge Police Department, who are currently investigating the crime.
Ongoing Progress School:
- A Muslim man was discriminated against at a Chicagoland area store by a manager. The manager’s attitude radically shifted upon hearing that the name of the man’s son was Mohammed. The manager became outright rude as he attempted to refuse the Muslim man service. CAIR-Chicago contacted the store manager and is in the process of sending a formal complaint to the store chain’s headquarters.
- A 13 year old Muslim junior high school student was repeatedly harassed and physically assaulted by two students since his transfer to the school in January. The harassers also claimed they were threatened by the boy with a knife. Despite a lack of witnesses, a perfect disciplinary record, an excellent academic record, and several searches with no knife recovered, the school’s administration is seeking to have the Muslim boy expelled.
CAIR-Chicago represented the child and his family on Tuesday, May 3, 2005, at a hearing. A final decision will be made on Thursday evening by the district’s Board of Education.
Action Alert: Hijab Discrimination
As part of a potential class action law suit, CAIR-Chicago is asking for any Muslim who has experienced any form of religious discrimination at a testing center to please contact us at civilrights
An example of a possible form of religious discrimination includes requiring or requesting the removal of a hijab/headscarf for searches, or discriminatory remarks made by employees about Muslims or Islam.
As a general reminder, any Muslim women facing Hijab discrimination is urged to notify CAIR-Chicago.
Action Alert: Religious Discrimination Delays Citizenship Process
As a joint effort with the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), CAIR-Chicago is asking individuals who passed a citizenship examination and have been waiting for over 90 days, or have been waiting for a Green Card for permanent residence for over 90 days to contact us at either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Project O Marathon Day
Is your university Muslim Students Association (MSA) looking to meet the other MSA groups around Chicagoland and compete for team prizes? Have you wondered what you could do to help promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims without making a phone call or writing a letter? Are you a university student looking to be more involved in the local American Muslim political scene and have fun doing it? Do you like pizza?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, CAIR-Chicago invites you to take part in our Project O Marathon Day on Friday, May 13 from 2 pm until 7 pm. The Marathon Day is one part of a seminal CAIR-Chicago Governmental Relations endeavor called Project O and will involve every MSA group in Chicagoland. If you, your MSA, or other group is interested in taking part in this fun-filled competition, please contact Dina Rehab, CAIR-Chicago’s Outreach Coordinator, at email@example.com. Location is to be announced.
Director of Governmental Relations
Address Change: CAIR-Chicago Moves Office to Larger Suite
In order to accommodate CAIR-Chicago's growing body of staff, interns, and volunteers, we are moving to a larger suite (#405) in the same building (28 E. Jackson). Please note our new address:
28 E Jackson Blvd, Suite 405
Chicago IL. 60604
CAIR-Chicago Welcomes New Board Member: Alif Muhammad
Two-time Emmy award-winner, Alif Muhammad has continuously exhibited exceptional skills in the field of television journalism. His talents as a still photographer opened the door to his successful career. As a News Editor for WLS, his outstanding skills contributed to ABC-TV’s winning of two UPI awards.
Alif’s international assignments have taken him to countless locations throughout the world including Egypt, Libya, Zimbabwe, Russia, New Zealand, Korea, Iraq, Rome, Australia, Indonesia, Great Britain, France and Germany to mention a few.
Alif Muhammad is a native Chicagoan who hails from a family of prominent community leaders. He is the grandson of Elijah Muhammad, the nephew of Imam W.D. Muhammad, and the son-in-law of Minister Louis Farrakhan. The father of three, he currently resides in Chicago’s south suburbs with his wife.
CAIR-Chicago Recruits New Outreach Intern: Tamer Abouzeid
Tamer is a student of finance at the University of Illinois at Chicago with a planned graduation date of May 2006. His interests include politics and human rights. After graduation, Tamer plans to attend Law School in Chicago. As an activist, his goal is to help build bridges between Chicago's Muslim and non-Muslim communities.
Help Wanted: Operations Coordinator
CAIR-Chicago has an immediate opening for the full-time position of Operations Coordinator. This position requires working knowledge of IT related issues (HTML, MS Office, Excel and Access). A college graduate is preferred. For more information, visit our career center. Qualified candidates may email their resume to firstname.lastname@example.org
Director of Communications
Director of Governmental Relations
Civil Rights Coordinator
Board of Directors
Susan Janaan Hashim - Treasurer
Shakeela Hassan, MD
Alim Elliott Khan
Mazen Kudaimi, MD
Kamran Memon, Esq.
Zaher Sahloul, MD
Abdullah Salah, Esq. - Vice President
Yaser Tabbara, Esq. - Secretary
Safaa Zarzour, Esq. - President