Let Us Reach out and Touch Some Lives
By Azher Quader
Executive Director, CBC
Chicago, IL

As another year has gone into the dust of history, many would probably be saying good riddance to a year which saw the global meltdown of the financial markets as never  before in our lifetime. To many 2008 meant job insecurity, to some it meant the loss of employment and to all it meant  devastating reductions in personal  financial assets. Notwithstanding the fact that most of us  may have witnessed  the greed and abuse of  sub prime lending from a distance we are nonetheless now being looked upon as the un-indicted co-conspirators of this calamity by the global community.
While some of us sang the praises of  Islamic Banking and Sharia Compliant Financing as superior models in the world of modern  banking and finance, arguably this was a failure of  regulations and controls that were side-stepped that led to the fiasco and not necessarily a failure of the system itself.
Yet this was also the year when hope reigned supreme and the belief in change propelled an unlikely Afro-American to the Presidency of  the United States. Much as we rejoiced  in the knowledge of his Muslim heritage, little did we celebrate his Christian faith that so eloquently spoke of  such common beliefs as compassion, integrity peace and the brotherhood of man. While we in America were peacefully mobilizing for change, with hope and anticipation in a new administration to come, half the globe across bombs were still exploding,  leaving millions of Muslims in agony, to experience death, despair  and the painful insanity of war.
All through 2008 we at Community Builders continued to remain focused on what we felt were the needs within our community. We continued to provide opportunities for learning through our monthly programs. Several voter education panels were additionally convened in the year to highlight the differences in the positions of the presidential candidates. As before a Convention was held during the Memorial Day weekend incorporating a Community Bazaar, several workshops on the Challenges Facing Muslim American Families and a Banquet with a Cultural Program. CBC was again a sponsor for the Sabeel Food Pantry/AMAL’s  Thanksgiving Turkey Drive which donated 600 turkeys to schools in South Chicago. Also CBC volunteers helped distribute 20,000 copies of the Chicago Muslim Yellow Pages within the community, making sure that this important resource for business empowerment reached as many Muslim households as possible. Finally, CBC volunteers worked many weekend hours helping enroll over 1000 uninsured into the Compassionate Care Network (CCN), a program organized and led by Muslim physicians providing access to affordable health care in the Chicago land area www.ccnchicago.com
As we prepare for 2009 we are exploring new ways to carry out our mission of empowering people through education and networking. The idea of Community Building is an evolving concept and has to continuously evolve with the needs of  our community. Some of the ideas we are looking at include the organizing of panel discussions and workshops on select topics through the course of the year, structured and focused on these needs.  Another suggestion we are exploring is of  organizing career shadowing opportunities for our high school students and college students through our network of professionals who are willing to provide this service. We will explore partnering with  our legal community in the  hope of arranging legal services at affordable charges, much like the physician services being offered at CCN, by the medical community. With time we have realized to constrain our passions and scale down our ambitions. We can do only so much with our limited resources of people and funds. If at the end of another year we have made some progress in putting these programs in place we would indeed feel our efforts were properly invested.
Finally, the many challenges we face as a community cannot be ignored. We have previously lamented on the poor commitment to community service within our community. We need to inspire our volunteers at every mosque and Islamic center to participate in programs of social merit within the communities they live in.
We need to have a lot more open discussion on the issue of our American identity, the essence of who we are and what defines us, our core beliefs, our mission and purpose in life and how all of that relates to our life in America. Far too much of our focus is on our image and our appearance and our portrayal in the media and regretfully too little on the more substantive issues of our character.
Many of our Islamic centers continue to struggle when it comes to matters of good governance. The democratic process within our centers is often suspect and our room for open discussion  is frequently limited. We need to learn to debate with dignity and dissent without anger. We need to accept an opposing view point occasionally and learn to compromise when it serves to advance our common purpose.  There is a dire need for transparency, accountability and better communication in most aspects of our institutional operations. We have previously argued on the issue of recruitment of professionals with good organizational and communication skills to work in our centers and continue to see this need still largely unmet.
The cloud of Islamophobia continues to hang over our heads. Clearly each one of us individually bears the responsibility of being proactive to dispel it.  In a world that has so significantly changed from 9/11, where so much attention is being given to our words and deeds, where so much is being asked and demanded of us, we can no longer remain in the anonymity of our spiritual practices.
There is a world out there inviting us to become agents of change and providers of solutions. Solutions to the challenges of drug abuse, youth violence, teen pregnancies, health disparities, homelessness, hunger, economic inequalities, family breakdowns and the list goes on. But we would first need to understand these issues by getting involved if we are serious about changing lives. This work cannot be done from a distance or by staying within the quiet and calm of our mosques or the seclusion of our homes. This work can only be done  by going into the trenches and getting our clothes dirtied. 
 Our parting words in a prior message over the issue of serving our neighbors were:
 “How unfortunate it will be that our neighbors will never come to know us for what we really stand for and the society we live in will never come to understand the answers and solutions we possess for the problems that frustrate them. How sad that they will always see us indifferent to their concerns at best and as sympathizers of terror at worst. How tragic that with all the wisdom of the Qur’an illuminating our lives we fail to dispel even the slightest of gloom and darkness that surrounds the lives of so many of our fellow Americans. Could it be that in our quest for spiritual purity we have become oblivious to the needs of others we see as children of a lesser god?
 Could it be that our view of salvation is so limited and so self-serving that we see in it only our own reflection? We are recipients of a sacred trust that makes us His ‘khalifas’. As His trustees we have an awesome responsibility and a burden to carry. We have a choice to make indeed. If we are true to our faith we should gladly accept this burden and embark upon this journey determined to improve the social fabric of America in addition to its architectural landscape.”
 There is not a whole lot we can add to those words. 2009 again beckons us with its promise and its possibilities. Let us reach out and touch some lives.
  Have a great year.



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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