Chicago Roundup
The Festive Mood of Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr
By Dr. Mujahid Ghazi

I am writing these lines on what may be the last day of Ramadan. A blessed month which brings bounties from Allah (SWT). It brings record crowds to the mosques. Qur’an is recited every night and Muslims listen to it with their utmost attention and respect.

The mosques in Chicago had special arrangements during this month. Almost all mosques have Iftar available for congregators. Some of the mosques have off and on dinner also available sponsored by generous Muslim individuals. Muslim Community Center, the oldest Muslim institution in Chicago is the pioneer of this Iftar dinner. Hundreds of Muslims take dinner at MCC every day. Mosque Foundation is another Islamic center catering to the need of Arab Muslims in the southern part of Greater Chicago. Located in Bridgeview Illinois, it has been a center of attention for mainstream news media and the government agencies after the September 11, 2001 incident. Since then under the leadership of people like Sheikh Jamal and Dr. Zaher Sahloul, the Mosque Foundation has not only overcome all the stereotyping and hurdles but has structured itself as a transparent Muslim institution in the forefront of interfaith initiatives.

In the first week of Ramadan, Mosque Foundation along with Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC) hosted its Annual Iftar Dinner at a banquet hall near the Mosque. People from all faiths and denominations were invited. Expected speaker was the Archbishop Cardinal Francis George. He is the first Chicago native to become Archbishop of Chicago. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make it due to some prior commitment. Rev. Thomas Baima read his message to the Muslim community.

Dr. Zaher Sahloul, President of Mosque Foundation and Chairman of CIOGC, represented the Muslim community and spoke eloquently on the importance of interfaith relations in present-day America. He welcomed the guests on behalf of the Foundation and CIOGC. Osama Jamal did a great job as emcee of the event. Community service recognition awards were also given to three individuals. Mary E Flowers, State Representative from 31ST District, was duly awarded for her efforts in making Arabic as a language choice in the public schools.

Joshua Hoyt, executive director of Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, was awarded for his untiring efforts to safeguard the civil liberty and immigrant’s rights. He has been the director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights since May of 2002. During that time the Coalition has fought vigorously for citizenship for the undocumented, to protect civil liberties in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and for a full integration of immigrants into community life in the United States. The Coalition has helped to make Illinois one of the most immigrant-friendly states in the US. The third individual to receive the award was Halil Demir, executive director of Zakat Foundation of America, who was recognized for his exemplary leadership and service to the poor and needy members of the community. Earlier, Sh. Kifah Moustapha spoke to a packed audience in a large meeting room in the mosque. He made a presentation highlighting the center and its activities.


Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky

IQRA’ International Educational Foundation also held its annual Iftar on the first Friday of Ramadan. Though it was mainly for IQRA’ Staff and Board of Directors but a large number of prominent community leaders were also present on the occasion. This scribe emceed the event. Hafiz Ikhlas recited the Holy Qur’an. Dr. Abidullah Ghazi, executive director, spoke briefly on the history of IQRA’ and shed light on the importance of charity in the month of Ramadan. He stressed that it is incumbent upon all Muslims who receive a call for help from non-profit Muslim organizations through mail, e-mail or any other channel to send some money to at least cover the cost of their communication. He also said that this month requires us to look around for needy people and help them with generosity. He further stressed that we should follow the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and fulfill Huqooqul Ibad. Dr. M. A. Waheed Faqri, chairman of the board of directors, in his speech commended the services of IQRA’ staff, especially those of Hafiz Ikhlas Ansari and Mr. Syed Wahajuddin. He asked the community to help IQRA’ in its endeavor of spreading Islamic knowledge. The Iftar and dinner were followed by Isha prayer and Taraveeh lead by Hafiz Ikhlas.

Apart from Muslim community events Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky's Town Hall Meeting in the midst of Ramadan attracted 2000 people. Niles West High School’s auditorium in Skokie Illinois was filled to its capacity of 1300 with 700 to 800 people waiting outside. Health care reform supporters made up the majority of the attendees with about 30% opposing it.  
People erupted in cheers when Congresswoman Schakowsky declared, "I believe by the end of 2009 we will have affordable, quality health care for all Americans".

Schakowsky was overwhelmed by the support in the room, but she also had to face some tough opposition remarks. Slogans like "health care now!" were responded by "socialism!" from the opposing group.

"I understand that there are issues of trust out there," Schakowsky told the audience. "The bill is what it is. It doesn't call for a single payer. The insurance industry can exist side-by-side with the public option contained in this bill."

Schakowsky said the legislation will not reduce Medicare benefits, will not lead to "rationing" of health care, and will not divert federal dollars to abortions. She also revealed that it will not provide health care to illegal immigrants.

"People are worried about the misinformation they hear because it's scary," she said. "Fear is a friend to opponents of health care reform."

Quoting Late Ted Kennedy, Schakowsky remarked, "You know, Ted Kennedy had said (health care) had been the great issue of his time." She further said, "This is great issue of my life. This is really the issue, more than any other, that has brought me to the Congress, health care -- the dream of having affordable, quality health care available to all Americans.”

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky represents the district which is heavily populated by South Asians and other immigrant communities. She has been very helpful to the Muslim Community in the past.

Just before the Ramadan, on August 15 th, 2009, CIOGC held its House of Representative meeting in the newly built MEC complex. More than twenty organizations participated in the meeting. The highlight of the meeting was the telephone call from Ms. Dalia Mogahed, the first Muslim woman to serve on the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Dr. Mogahed asked the community organizations to participate in her initiative of mobilizing the Muslim community nationwide in developing social projects inclusive of mainstream population. She said that many Muslims have been volunteering and donating for years but their contributions have not received recognition. She said the report that will be submitted to the President would shed light on the work of Muslims Americans.
“This gives Muslims an opportunity to show who we are instead of who we aren’t,” said Mogahed. “It is an initiative to tell the world of what we contribute to society.”

She advised the audience on how Chicago Muslims can register service projects at Muslimserve.org that has a goal of 1,000 projects by September 11, 2009. “Muslim Americans Answer the Call” is an offshoot of the United We Serve campaign that runs from June 26 to September 11 culminating in a speech to mark September 11 as a Day of Service. She mentioned four areas of service that people could participate in: health care, environment, community renewal and education. She said she wanted to help mobilize the Muslim community to answer the President’s call to action, especially in Ramadan.
“Muslim Americans must answer the call from the President, they should answer the call of the people who are struggling with financial or other difficulties and most importantly, they should answer God’s call to serve humanity,” she said.

Lastly, a day before Eid Devon Avenue, a desi hub in Chicago presented a picture of Tariq Road or Bohri Bazaar of Karachi. Stores, restaurants, boutiques and beauty saloons were crowded with people preparing for Eid. Most of the boutiques were charging arm and leg from the last minute shoppers. Most of the hair dressers/beauty saloons had extra help to put henna on the hands of women and young girls. Sweet shops were trying to meet the demands of the customers. Tahoora Sweets, a Chicago icon, was flooded with orders through Internet and walk-in customers. Saleem of Nirala Sweets, the only mithai maker by heritage, was not only making sweets for his own store but also for other sweet stores who asked him to help. The boutiques like Sahiba, Al-Raheem, Taj Sari Palace, Khoobsurat Boutique and Be Jee Collections were open till late night, rather early Eid morning, to serve late shoppers.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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