All posts by munakhan2017

Fear and coping in Muslim America

By Muna Khan and Shahzeb Ahmed

The third floor of the Downtown Islamic Center in Chicago fills quickly with men of all races and ethnicities—Arabs sit next to South Asians who sit next to African Americans. They have come for the obligatory Friday congregational prayer.

Most sit cross-legged with their heads bowed in silence, listening to the Imam’s lecture. Some stare intently at the television monitor suspended from the ceiling in the front of the room. The frame is fixed on a small man delivering the lecture. A sign taped to the wall proclaims the man is speaking from the fifth floor of the building.

Mohammed Kaiseruddin, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, which has 60 groups under its stewardship, delivers a powerful sermon allaying the fears of his congregation gathered on the first Friday after Donald Trump’s victory.

“Muslims are extremely anxious about what the future will hold for us because of the anti-Muslim rhetoric Mr. Trump expressed, also his campaign,” he begins. “The rhetoric included not letting Muslims into the country, requiring Muslims here to register.”

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Chicago Muslim group uses billboard to slam ISIS

By Muna Khan

A group of Muslims in Chicago has banded together to denounce the militant group ISIS with disparaging messages on billboards posted in four cities — Phoenix, St. Louis and Miami, as well as in Chicago.

The billboards, the first of which went up in Chicago on Aug. 5, read “Hey ISIS, You Suck!!!” and are accompanied by a small Quran verse “Life is Sacred.” Each billboard is signed with the social media hashtag “Actual Muslims.”

The initiative is the brainchild of a group of Muslims who approached Sound Vision, a 28-year-old PR and media communication firm based in Chicago. Sound Vision works on issues affecting the Muslim community. Its founder and president, Abdul Malik Mujahid, said the company has been working for two years on campaigns to combat stereotypes about Muslim Americans and Islam. They distribute brochures to explain that the Islam practiced by ISIS terrorists is not the same religion taught by Prophet Mohammed.

The cost of putting up the billboards varied, depending upon the city. The funds for erecting them were raised by Muslims in each community, who pooled their resources through donation drives. In Chicago, for example, it cost $2,500 to erect the billboard; in Arizona it was $4,000 and in Miami it was $5,000. The group plans to erect more billboards across the nation, including in Times Square in New York, where the cost could run as much as $25,000. The group is using a crowd funding platform for this purpose and has raised nearly $15,000 so far.

The billboards are an effort to help debunk the notion spread by Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump, among others, that Muslim Americans condone terrorism.

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Writer, actor and producer Fawzia Mirza uses comedy to jump start conversations and challenge stereotypes

By Muna Khan

Fawzia Mirza stands on a practically bare stage. Her only companions are three chairs situated on a colorful carpet, suggesting a movie theater where Mirza is pretending to be attending a screening of a film starring famed Indian actor Sharmila Tagore. Mirza tells the audience at the Steppenwolf Theatre about how much she and her mother love Tagore, whose nearly 50-year career as a Bollywood icon is marked not only by her magnetic performances, but by her defiance of societal norms.

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Refugees from Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya community find sanctuary and solace at a cultural center in Chicago

By Muna Khan

A dozen primary school-aged children sit around desks taking instruction from their tutors, local college students who volunteer as English language teachers at the Rohingya Culture Center in Chicago. The center’s founder, Nasir Bin Zakaria, 40, watches from a distance, nodding in delight whenever a child gets an answer right.

Zakaria, who works full-time as the director of the center, fought tirelessly to create this space for refugees. Opened in April on the busy and popular South Asian corridor along Devon Avenue near Rogers Park, the single-story, open space, with rooms in the back for more private gatherings, is a sanctuary where these new Chicago residents come to feel at home after escaping hardship in Myanmar. A huge map of Myanmar adorns one wall, and an elevated podium serves as a stage for notable events. White boards hang on one side of the wall, which is where children and adults alike come for lessons.

The center offers new refugees support services like English lessons for children and adults as well as Quran lessons. It also hosts parties and weddings.

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