June 22, 2016
Muslims hope for Rauner’s signature on advisory council bill
By Manya Brachear Pashman for the Chicago Tribune
There might not be a budget, but Illinois could become the first state with a law on the books that gives Muslims a formal voice in government.
The creation of an Illinois Muslim-American Advisory Council is one of more than 400 bills awaiting Gov. Bruce Rauner‘s signature. It landed on the Republican governor’s desk shortly before presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump renewed his call to ban Muslims entering the U.S., after a shooter of the Islamic faith killed 49 people at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub.
Muslim leaders say Rauner’s signing of the bill would send a welcome message to the community that Illinois does not condone Trump’s approach. The governor’s office said he is reviewing the bill.
“Given all that is going on with the misinterpretation about Islam and the interests and concerns of the Muslim American community, it’s almost obligatory on behalf of a governor of this state and all governors to have such a body,” said Kareem Irfan, a Chicago lawyer who led an earlier iteration of the council under Gov. Pat Quinn. “So we’re not subject to the whims of each governor, it would be good to make this a lasting institutional body.”
Along with a number of other minority advisory councils, the Muslim council that existed under Quinn dissolved when Rauner took office last year, Irfan said. This year’s hostile political climate prompted Muslim community leaders to propose a resolution that would restore it, and lawmakers took it one step further by proposing a statute that would establish the council more formally.
Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she hopes restoration of the council in the form of a law will be the first of many efforts to ensure the governor considers minority perspectives.
“We need to encourage our Muslim Americans to be civically engaged and participate,” Collins said. “If you don’t participate, the fringe elements establish the policy.”
The 21-member council, whose volunteer members would be appointed by the governor as well as leaders in the House and Senate, would advise the governor and General Assembly on issues affecting Muslim Americans and immigrants, including relations between Illinois and Muslim-majority countries. Through monthly meetings and two public hearings per year, members also would serve as liaisons between state agencies and communities across Illinois.
The act specifies that members would serve two-year terms and should bring expertise in a variety of areas including higher education, business, international trade, law, immigration and health care. Staff from certain state agencies would serve as ex-officio members.
Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, who voted against the bill last month, said state employees shouldn’t be wasting their time monitoring advisory councils and lawmakers shouldn’t be wasting their time on “feel-good” legislation when there’s no state budget. She said moderate Muslims should more clearly denounce “Islamic radicals — whatever the Republicans are willing to say and Hillary Clinton isn’t.”
“It’s not an anti-Muslim thing,” she said. “It’s the duty and responsibility of the Muslim American community to figure out how to help us understand whom our enemies are. I don’t believe it’s the state of Illinois’ responsibility to do that.”
Illinois has long been a leader in policies affecting and protecting Muslims, the third-largest religious group in the state next to Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants. In May 2001, 29 state senators, including then-state Sen. Barack Obama, sponsored a bill making it a misdemeanor for any business to sell meat and other products falsely labeled halal, foods permitted by the faith. And in 2005, lawmakers urged federal agencies to come up with a list of charitable organizations, including Muslim charities, that Americans could contribute to without fear of prosecution.
In 2009, busloads of Muslims headed to Springfield for the first annual Muslim Action Day, an organized lobbying effort for issues affecting the community. Quinn issued an executive order setting up an advisory council during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2011.
Rauner recently hosted an interfaith prayer breakfast at the executive mansion, where the executive director of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago gave a reading from the Quran.
Hoda Hawa, director of policy and advocacy for the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington, D.C., cautiously applauded the legislation, as long as its stated purpose was authentic. There have been too many instances when law enforcement has enlisted the Muslim community for the purpose of surveillance, not civic engagement, she said.
“If this council is just for security purposes, they should be clear about that,” Hawa said. “It would be quite concerning to set up an advisory council that’s out there gathering intelligence. That really erodes trust.”
Collins said the purpose of the statute is to empower a particularly defenseless population. She believes government should serve those who can least serve themselves.
“I believe as a legislator you deal with the budget, but you also deal with issues that affect us all,” she added. “I’m there to be a different voice at the table for those who are the most vulnerable in society.”
Reprinted from www.ChicagoTribune.com