The Council has continued its quarterly meetings between local leaders and representatives of the Department of Homeland Security to discuss issues relevant to Chicagoland’s Muslims.
Over 50 representatives of our community institutions met with multiple federal agencies for dinner and discussion at Downtown Islamic Center on November 10. The meeting consisted of educational presentations about refugee resettlement programs, targeting violence, and the TSA and CIOGC’s “Building Community Resiliency” against violent extremism program. The presentations were followed by a question and answer session and meaningful discussions.
CIOGC Chair Dr. Mohammed Kaiseruddin presented on the Council’s “Building Community Resiliency” program, launched in June 2015 with funding from the Cook County DHS Emergency Management Office, explaining the need for a community initiative to respond to the arrests of several Chicagoland Muslim youth for alleged involvement in or support of violent activities.
DHS agencies presented on community engagement and answered open questions from Muslim community leaders, but expertise was drawn from both sides of the discussion to develop effective responses and identify unique opportunities for community development. The Syrian Community Network invited one refugee family to attend the meeting and speak directly to government officials and community organizers about their experiences with refugee resettlement efforts.
Dr. Bambade Shakoor-Abdullah of the Leadership Development Institute presented on mental health and social services, Islamic narrative and bystander training and their roles as key components to any holistic approach dealing with youth who may be vulnerable to negative social behavior. Her focus on violence prevention in high risk populations offered a unique perspective to federal agencies, stating: “Through our Bystander Training, participants learn to distinguish between stereotyping individuals and communities and recognizing potentially dangerous behavior based on specific assessments. We don’t want anyone to be reporting someone to law enforcement simply because their behavior is perceived as ‘different’ as opposed to an act that might lead to violence.”
Omer Mozaffer, Muslim Chaplain and Adjunct Professor at Loyola University of Chicago, highlighted the dangers of superficial religious knowledge, summing “People, especially youth, who look to the internet to understand complex Islamic concepts like the teachings of Prophet Muhammad is similar to me googling symptoms of a complex disease. Neither will lead to the correct conclusion because both require a deep understanding of the subject matter.”
These quarterly roundtable discussions allow the community access to the various agencies within DHS and the opportunity to build relationships with federal entities that impact American Muslims and Islamic institutions in significant ways. Perhaps more importantly, they allow these federal agencies a unique perspective into the social mechanics of our spiritual community and provide them with on-the-ground expertise that will shape their policies when engaging with local Muslims. In an environment where many of us feel insecure about our safety as our mosques are being vandalized, open lines of communication are needed in order to restore order and security on a timely basis.