Civic engagement is a cornerstone of community-building within the Council. It is the practical application of Islamic principles that call upon Muslims to strive for justice. Our civic engagement efforts has many components including:
- Working with community-based groups to provide social services
- Reaching out to starting dialogue with local, state and federal government agencies
- Educating people on issues and on policies that can help improve our communities
These are just a few examples of civic engagement. Any activity that gets people involved in their communities to bring about improvements and to help strengthen the community can be described as civic engagement.
The Council’s work in Government Affairs
The Council’s work in government affairs is largely focused on educating the greater community on how to engage with the government in a productive and constructive manner. The Muslim American community not only learns about civic engagement through the Council, it also has the opportunity to try the strategies and techniques through an array of campaigns that the Council works on in coalition and collaboration with other religious (interfaith) and community-based groups. And through the annual Muslim ACTION! Day, where Muslims from all over Illinois have the opportunity to visit Springfield, Illinois and actively engage with legislators.
The Council’s government affairs work is largely done in partnership and collaboration with other groups. Over the years the Council has forged strong relationships with United Power for Action and Justice (UPAJ), the Illinois Coalition on Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), the Chicago Faith Coalition on Middle East Policy, Faith in Place, Protestants for the Common Good, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA).
The Council continues its participation in quarterly meetings between the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and members of the Muslim community. The purpose is to share perspectives and to improve communication with law enforcement in an effort to foster stronger partnerships. The meetings are part of the continuing outreach program aimed at improving the department’s negative image and to combat the stereotypes, mistrust, and misinformation that people hold about the department and other law enforcement. With participation also from the Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) and the Chicago Police Department, the meetings are designed to give the Muslim community and law enforcement the opportunity to express their concerns, ask questions, and learn more about each other.
The Council works collaboratively with local, state, and federal officials in coordination with the Muslim community to improve the lives of Muslims through advocacy and program sustainability. CIOGC seeks sustainable impact on policy and decision-making through a comprehensive approach, listed below:
- Developing and maintaining relationships with elected officials, policy makers, community leaders, social service providers, and advocacy groups;
- Identifying issues and their potential impact on the community that can be modified through the legislative process;
- Developing and communicating a consistent, focused message to policymakers on community positions and legislative priorities at the local, state and federal level;
- Tracking key legislation, providing strategic assistance and grassroots training; collaborating with program managers in developing applications for government funding
- Working with elected officials on community projects of interest to their constituents and sharing with them information about community programs in their district.
- Working with local and state agencies to place Muslim American community leaders on commissions, committees and task forces to ensure the Muslim community voice is heard and that we fully contribute to our city and state.
Over the past twenty years, the Council has built alliances and collaborates regularly with various community and like-minded organizations to promote causes for the common good. Together with our partners, the Council has successfully advocated for various initiatives including the Green Ramadan resolution, the Charity without Fear Act, the DREAM Act, and issues such as immigrant and refugee services, violence prevention, employment for youth, assistance for food deserts, the environment, and Arabic education in public schools.
Our partners and coalitions are listed below. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list:
- United Power for Action and Justice (UPAJ)
- Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR)
- The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
- Department of Homeland Security
- Campaign for Better Health Care
- Center for Faith and Community Heath
- Illinois Partners for Human Services
- Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago (CRLMC)
In early 2011, CIOGC started working closely with Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL 9th District) who responded to the Muslim community’s concerns regarding FBI profiling. Rep. Schakowsky focused on allegations that some FBI agents have been trained to view mainstream American Muslims with suspicion and to view the faith of Islam itself as the source of terrorism and extremism. Through Congresswoman Schakowsky’s efforts, the Muslim American community in Illinois and across the country was able to get FBI Director Mueller to admit that the FBI training at the time did contain “inappropriate offensive content” and pledged to perform a ‘top to bottom’ review of FBI counterterrorism training.
As a result of the CIOGC’s efforts, the FBI and other law enforcement officials were offered an opportunity to build relationships within the diverse Muslim community. The FBI made a concerted effort to reach out to the Muslim communities in Chicago and suburbs to make sure they are aware that they are there to protect their rights and civil liberties. As part of that effort, the FBI hosted its own Ramadan iftar at which several Council members were invited. In addition, the FBI began to partake in many such dinners at area mosques. The agency also invited Muslim community leaders, as well as members of other ethnic groups, businesses, and media to participate in its yearly Citizen’s Academy.
According to Chicago FBI spokesperson, Ross Rice, “We reach out as best we can to all ethnic and religious groups, not just Muslims. I think we have a lot more understanding and a lot of trust with many members of the Muslim community. We have a much better knowledge and understanding of the Islamic faith.”