Dr. Mohammed Kaiseruddin, CIOGC Chair
In his speech at the Maryland Mosque, President Obama said: “Some of these [terrorist] groups are specifically trying to target Muslim youth. We’re going to have to be partners in this process.” This statement rings true and very close to home. At the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC), we have been engaged in confronting the challenge.
The violence in America has manifested in various settings such as school shootings, church/temple shootings and bombings in crowded places. We are thankful that no such large scale violent acts have occurred here in Chicago. However, we are concerned that a few of our young men were arrested on charges of providing material support to foreign terrorist groups such as ISIS and AlQaeda. The challenge may not seem very large in scope at this time, alhamdlillah, but it is very intense in its impact on the community and on the affected families. In response to community concerns, CIOGC has conducted community town hall meetings and internet safety workshops for the diverse Muslim community throughout the Chicago area.
American Muslim youth face the same challenges of social instability, identity formation, online predation, bullying, worldly temptation, and pressures to succeed as their peers. Additionally, they also face the unique pressures caused by the public vilification of Islam, hate crimes, feelings of alienation, and sentiments of Muslim solidarity and righteous indignation unaccompanied by constructive avenues of activism and engagement. It is also recognized that foreign terrorist groups increase the pressure further by enticing our youth to join them using false interpretations of Islamic teachings and promises of life under an “Islamic Khilafah”.
How Muslim youth respond to these pressures may be affected by diverse factors. They could be traced to an intensity of passion, level of religiosity verses religious education, psychological and mental health factors, legal issues and educational strategies. To address the concern in a comprehensive manner, CIOGC has initiated and is engaged in a project for building our community’s resilience against violent extremism. The Resiliency Project consists of developing tools for the prevention of extremist tendencies, intervention where necessary and providing positive alternatives for impressionable and well-intentioned youth. The purpose of the Resiliency Project is to initiate the development of a holistic approach to address the challenges. The project addresses the concern from various angles, including Islamic understanding, youth counseling, youth development, psychological and psychiatric aspects and the training of bystanders.
CIOGC has engaged a team of experts in these areas. The team members have benefited from the cross-training through team meetings and are engaged in developing their own aspects of the program. Focus group meetings are used to test the relevance of their work and modify as necessary to gain the acceptance of the community. In this issue of the Chicago Crescent see an article by team member, Professor Omer Mozaffar, regarding ISIS’ misinterpretation of Islam, and look for more articles in the coming issues, insha’Allah.
CIOGC is thankful to Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) for making this project possible through grant funding.