Honorable elected officials, religious and civic leaders and brothers and sisters in the human family,
Assalamu alaikum. Greetings of peace to you all. I have the privilege of speaking to you in behalf of the CIOGC Board of Directors and the Staff who are all listed in the books in front of you.
All praises belong to God almighty, who has revealed in the Quran وَكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا, which is translated as, “We have made you a model community.” Muslims understand this to be life’s mission for believers to model their lives according to the Creator’s guidance – being a model in all aspects of life, be it political, social, economical, enjoyment of Creator’s provisions on earth while not abusing or destroying them, and most importantly standing up for justice and against bigotry, discrimination and exploitation. Many of the Muslims making their home in this great country of ours may actually be presenting their models as doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers, taxi drivers and businessmen, etc. However, the perception of Muslims in the society is quite different from reality. A majority of people in the US are concerned about Islamic Extremism, according to a 2015 Pew survey. A majority of them feel less warmly about Muslims than several other faith groups, such as Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Buddhists and Hindus. Under these circumstances, it is hard to accept you as models. We are in a hole of public opinion and need to dig ourselves out of it.
The problem is not just in Chicago. CIOGC does not pretend to understand all the factors associated with it, nor do we think we can address it by ourselves. While we look for a long term solution, CIOGC understands the landscape and the need to work knowing this perception exists. We felt the necessity to denounce when deranged people, who called themselves Muslims, killed innocent people in San Bernardino and Orlando. And we did. On the other hand, we did not feel the necessity to denounce when other deranged people took many innocent lives in Sandy Hook and Charleston, SC.
Almost a dozen young Muslims were arrested here in the Chicago area over the last few years on charges of supporting foreign terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and al-Qaeda. CIOGC provided much needed community education and counseling and engaged with FBI and DHS. For the past year and a half we are engaged in developing a program of prevention of tendencies to fall into the lure of ISIS, which is substantial, towards violent extremism. When a once-prominent Imam and scholar was being prosecuted for sexual abuse, CIOGC worked with Islamic schools to enhance the abuse prevention policies and training.
We understand, however, that such reactive actions are not sufficient to dig ourselves out of the hole of negative public perception. So, we engage positively with other faith communities. We have ongoing engagement programs with the Catholics, United Methodists and Presbyterians. Now we are also engaged in scholarly dialogues with the Jewish and Catholic scholars.
We are now embarking upon a methodical and consistent civic engagement program. It will consist of establishing an infrastructure of people throughout metropolitan Chicago who are motivated for such work. Its objective is to motivate the community to be active in all aspects of the political process. I urge your attention and cooperation with this program. At this point it is quite appropriate to recognize the persistence our brother Moon Khan has shown in securing his place on the DuPage County ballot for the Recorder of Deeds. He deserves our applause for showing the way.
CIOGC initiated a small program shining a light on Muslim achievements, which are plenty indeed. This is the fourth year that we are recognizing the Top Muslim Achievers. We have selected phenomenal achievers over the past three years, and this year is no exception. I must mention here, without going into the details, that CIOGC had to rescind an award we announced to an individual. The individual involved was extended sincere apologies. She was extremely gracious in accepting them and not holding any ill will towards CIOGC. Many of her supporters, however, were not so forgiving and they let CIOGC hear and feel their anger. As the Chair of CIOGC, I take full responsibility for the mishap. Your backlash was severe and I felt it. I am grateful to my family and the close circle of friends who showed their care and concern. As a side note, however, I also fully appreciate now how much the CIOGC award of Top Muslim Achiever means to people.
Let me end with a personal note. I have had this very rare opportunity to serve you as the CIOGC Chair for the last four years, in addition the same opportunity you gave me 20years ago. I did not deserve it, but I hope I put in the efforts needed. I am deeply thankful to God, to the community leadership and all of you for these opportunities of serving. Whatever has gone wrong in these four years is totally due to my shortcomings, and I seek forgiveness for that. Whatever good has come out from these past four years is due to God’s grace, the fabulous cooperation and support you have shown verbally, through participation and through your financial support. I urge you to please continue and let CIOGC continue to grow to its full potential.
(At the end of his speech, the Chairman requested everyone to stand for a minute and pray for the victims of oppression in Syria, Kashmir and other parts of the world.)