Skip to comments.Chicago's Arab Muslims growing increasingly devout
Posted on 06/22/2003 3:47:21 AM PDT by sarcasm
It wasn't until her mid-30s that Maha Jarad, now 41 and living in Evanston, began fasting for Ramadan, eating Islamic-certified foods and regularly attending mosque.
Itedal Shalabi, 34, of Bridgeview, started wearing a hijab--head scarf--three years ago, several years after she stopped wearing it at the age of 18. She has since studied Islam and the Quran extensively and considers herself much more spiritual these days.
Chicago's Rami Nashashibi, 31, grew up skeptical of organized religion, but more recently he stopped drinking alcohol, began praying five times a day--as dictated in the Quran--and wears a beard, as did the prophet Muhammad.
The three Muslims of Arab descent represent a growing number of Arab Americans and other Muslims in the Chicago area who have become significantly more religious in recent years, experts and community leaders say.
The number of mosques in the area has grown from a handful two decades ago to more than 80 today, with dozens of additional locations where Muslims pray together. Seven full-time Islamic schools--the first of which opened 15 years ago--report surging enrollment. Dozens of stores offering Halal, or certified Islamic meats, can be found all over the city and in far-off suburbs.
Muslims cite a variety of reasons for their heightened faith, ranging from a reaction to what they see as a growing lack of morals in society to disappointment with secular institutions to a banding together following increased anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment resulting from the Sept. 11 attacks.
The trend is so pervasive that University of Illinois at Chicago sociologist Louise Cainkar, one of the leading scholars in the country on Arab and Muslim Americans, calls it the "Islamicization'' of Chicago's Arab community. Last month, she was named a Carnegie Corporation Scholar and awarded $100,000 to study the phenomenon.
"Over the past dozen or so years, I have observed a major transformation within this community,'' said Cainkar, who is not Arab or Muslim but has studied the community since 1982. "I watched it change from a secular, nationalist community to one that is more religious than before.''
In her research, most recently at UIC's Great Cities Institute, Cainkar says she has observed "hundreds of individuals change from secular to religious, from miniskirted to veiled, from partygoer to observant prayer.''
The nonreligious political groups that once united Arabs have much smaller roles, she said. Once four Arab-American community centers organized most community events; now most happenings take place at large Islamic centers, she said.
To some degree, the rise in organized religious activity is driven by sheer numbers. The overall Muslim community in Chicago has grown by 20 percent to 30 percent in less than a decade, and is now 400,000 (about 25 percent of whom are black Muslims), according to estimates by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. One of the largest Arab immigrant groups, Palestinians, grew from 30,000 to 85,000 in the last two decades, Cainkar estimates.
Whereas decades ago many Muslim immigrants largely assimilated into society, the larger numbers here and nationwide mean Islamic institutions can sprout and grow, said Sayyid Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America in Plainfield, Ind. Like other religious groups, Muslims are concerned about what they perceive as declining morals in society, which results in a desire to explore Islam and the Quran more deeply, leaders said.
"Muslims are going back to their roots, to the fundamentals,'' said Kareem Irfan, head of the council.
In addition, Islam offers a way to connect with a larger group rather than strictly with fellow patriots from a single country. There is a "strong sense that we are all here as Muslims,'' Irfan said.
That was part of the reason for the change in Nashashibi, who came to Chicago at 18 after growing up in the Middle East and Europe. He joined a larger group that included Asian Muslims as well as Latino and white converts.
"For young Palestinian kids growing up on the South Side of Chicago, identifying yourself as Muslim immediately gave you entry into a larger part of American society,'' he said.
But Cainkar also suspects the explanation behind the trend goes beyond those reasons. Among Arabs and particularly Palestinians, many have become disillusioned with secular groups because of their failure to improve the crisis in the Middle East. They also see secular governments in Muslim countries that have treated their citizens poorly, she said.
"They felt empty and without a future,'' she said. "They found a stronger faith in God replaced faith in secular democratic institutions because they had gotten them nowhere.''
With religion playing a larger role, the group's political agenda has shifted. Before Sept. 11, the groups started focusing on gaining more government recognition in American society. But since then, the groups have focused on combatting hate crimes and preserving civil rights for Muslim immigrants--as secular groups have done.
But Ray Hanania, a Palestinian Christian, believes a more religious agenda among some Arab leaders has hurt the community overall. Hanania, former national president of the Palestinian American Congress, says Arabs with moderate, secular views now have trouble being heard over the arguments of religious fanatics.
"There is definitely an increase in religious fundamentalism and a focus on religious politics,'' said Hanania, a former Sun-Times reporter. "I feel pushed out of the process.'' But others argue that since Sept. 11, the community has sought to clear up widespread misconceptions about the Muslim faith and actually become more inclusive.
Not every Muslim agrees the community has a deeper faith. Ali Kahn, a Chicago investment banker who is on the executive board of the American Muslim Council, said there have always been devout Muslims, but most Muslims send their children to nonreligious schools, as he does. And Ali Alarabi, national director of the United Arab American League, agrees more Muslims have been driven to attend mosques, especially since Sept. 11, but not necessarily for religious reasons.
"Islam is a safety valve that people go back to in response to anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment in America,'' he said.
Can you do that in Illinois? After all, it's the home of Presser vs. Illinois (1895), the Supreme Court case in which the Court okayed an Illinois law that limited the State Militia to an enrollment of 8600, and denied Second Amendment rights to anyone not in the State Militia.
Infidels have a cause for concern because Islam preaches 5th column invasion for slaughter and subjugation.
Political correctness strikes again. Don't you know that Moslems are oppressed?
If this really was the cause, Muslims might go to their mosques more, but outside would be trying to blend in. Instead, in Philadelphia, I see more and more women with the full eyes-slit-only black veil. From this article, it sounds like it is the same in Chicago.
I'm curious whether, espeically in the coming summer heat, the women are wearing this voluntarily or are pressured by men.
The few, the proud, the able-to-own-guns.
Though I bet they make you leave them in the armory.
Check with an attorney, I'll bet that 1886 (?) statute is still on the books, the one that limited the Second Amendment to the 8600 elect. They were all relatives of GOP officeholders, btw. Sound familiar?
Check it out! Bet Cook County still relies on the old Militia statute when they insist on confiscating weapons.
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