Dedication and effort continue to strengthen Chicago Muslims’ unity
By Rabiyah Syed
This year, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC) is celebrating its 30-year anniversary.
The organization, created in 1992 to help the growing Muslim community connect, coordinate, improve the quality of its members’ life and make critical decisions, collaborates with over 70 area mosques, Islamic schools, and relief and service-based organizations. They work with local and state officials to help better plan, organize and run programs and projects.
CIOGC represents Chicagoland’s many Muslims. Abdul Malik Mujahid, a founder and former chairperson, said that the underlying motivation was to “have the community come together. The community was growing, mosques were being built and there was a need to coordinate activities.” current Chairman Irshad Khan relates that one goal of its creation “was to create a unified ummah with a united voice to represent the Muslims of the Chicagoland area.” A great and unique idea, this organization “was built to unify the communities and create a platform to speak on behalf of the entire Muslim community.”
CIOGC began when a group of Muslim leaders held a meeting to discuss community concerns. This meeting was the inception of CIOGC as leaders concluded that there was a need for a connected council to assist and represent the Muslim community. The leaders had constructed a vision for the council by the end of the meeting and went on to create the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. The council’s formation was a major effort to unify the Muslim communities of Chicago. It allowed for the many Muslim communities, organizations and individual people to have their voices heard; CIOGC was able to represent and aid the Muslim community in an effective and efficient way.
Over the past 30 years, CIOGC has grown bigger, and more mosques and organizations have partnered with it. CIOGC started as a small organization working to aid, connect and unify the Muslim community. For example, 9/11 was a very intense time for Muslims in America. Many Muslim people were afraid of what was going to happen next. During this time, CIOGC stepped up to support and help the Muslim community. One of the first things they did was provide a press release for the media. CIOGC later created a diversity video for the Chicago Police Department to sensitize police officers and security officials. This video was also shown to security personnel at Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports, which helped to ease the concerns of Muslim Americans.
Since then, the organization has added more staff positions, such as executive director, communication team and director, and committees. More programs were planned and implemented as the need grew for more community projects. More interaction caused their network to expand. Its leadership’s continuous decision to step up has led the organization to an important turning point: becoming involved with city officials to such an extent that they were recognized as a liaison and representatives of the Muslim community.
In September 2021, during the Afghan refugee crisis, the Department of Homeland Security and the Illinois Department of Human Services contacted CIOGC to assist the refugees. “We don’t do it all by ourselves. We bring our partners, relief organizations and mosques to help facilitate them,” said Khan. With the help of partnering relief organizations, they have already received and facilitated the resettlement of 1,400+ refugees and unaccompanied minors.
The task force focuses on advocacy, awareness and providing essential needs and religious services. CIOGC and its partners supply housing and food, employment opportunities and access to medical care to the resettled refugees, as well as cultural training and translation assistance to the involved agencies’ staff. As of 2021, the organization had given $1.4 million for rent and utilities to 750 families. Another major service is arranging religious services in local mosques. This help program continues.
CIOGC works with many committees to resolve problems and assist those who need help. One of the many important committees is the charity committee, which works with Zakat Chicago. Zakat Chicago collects zakat from local mosques and distributes it locally. In 2021, it distributed $750,000. CIOGC members also work with communities to achieve social justice. For example, they helped fund a social justice program at a mosque in Chicago’s North Side, which they used to run soup kitchens and give food to those who needed it.
The organization plays a large role in conveying information to the community via seeing what needs to be done, devising a plan, calling on partners or people who can help and, finally, executing the plan. For example, it wants the mosques and other partner organizations to educate people of their civic duty and encourage them to act. “We are enhancing our efforts within our community to say, ‘Mosques, you need to have voters registration, voters drives and education on civic duty,’” explains Khan.
They have also brought in experts to discuss the importance of fulfilling their civic duty. In addition, they invite candidates so people can be informed, ask questions and voice concerns. Then they can decide who to vote for and thereby become more socially engaged. In addition, CIOGC acts at the state level by working with lawmakers and legislators. One of their accomplishments was to get a law passed that states that missing school on religious holidays is considered an excused absence.
Another big win was realized when the Trump administration assumed power. There was a major concern that Muslims would have to be registered as Japanese Americans had been after Pearl Harbor. CIOGC went to Springfield, the state capital, and worked to pass an anti-registry law at the state level that if that concern became reality, Muslims in Illinois wouldn’t have to register.
Mujahid said that CIOGC people “meet on a regular basis and make decisions that are critical for the community.” One of their past decisions was to work with a coalition known as United for Power. After joining forces, they influenced Illinois to cover the healthcare of all children under the age of 18. These are just some of the milestone achievements that CIOGC has accomplished on a civic and legislative level.
Members of CIOGC’s interfaith program work closely with leaders and representatives of other religions. Building open communicative relationships with them is essential to resolving pressing issues. Over the years, CIOGC has built relationships with the members of the Archdiocese of Chicago through interfaith dialogue and community events, such as hosting iftars. Being able to work “Shoulder to Shoulder,” as Khan puts it, is crucial because it’s much more beneficial to find common ground and work together to address many social issues.
Another part of this interfaith program is sponsoring the Mustard Seed project, which aims to combat religious and cultural polarization by promoting and facilitating open discussion among different groups. The CIOGC interfaith committee promoted this project at one of its components, The Mecca Center. The event brought Christians and Muslims together for discussions and conversations about their beliefs, as well as about themselves. CIOGC and the interfaith committee hope to host more such events to strengthen relationships.
CIOGC worked with local officials and, as Khan said, “ensured compliance of the mask mandate, organized mass vaccination sites and was the first group to have all clergies vaccinated to ensure the safe reopening of mosques across Illinois.” Members also joined forces with the Illinois Department of Human Services and received an emergency fund of $1.4 million to financially assist refugee families. In addition, CIOGC worked with city officials to help create jobs and employ them in the community. The organization’s quick action and decision to step up led to people being more alert and aware, as well as obeying the experts’ protective measures.
CIOGC’s Task Force also works with relief organizations, medical professional associations and social service groups to aid the needy. They help with Covid-19 testing and screening and providing access to non-emergency medical care, dental care, food and financial aid. Covid-19 was a difficult time for many; however, CIOGC, with determination and planning, was able to assist those in need and emerge as an organization.
This past March, CIOGC hosted a luncheon to celebrate its 30-year anniversary. Many important people, including the governor, mayors, attorney general, senators and others, were invited to a huge event focusing on the organization’s large network. CIOGC’s interfaith partners and police officials also attended. The event both showcased the organization’s wide-reaching network of notable people and acknowledged and commemorated it’s work and milestones. This was a historic event, because for the first time CIOGC gained major recognition from government officials and a large amount of social media attention.
After 30 years of CIOGC serving the community, Irshad vocalized that moving forward, he hopes to continue working and communicating together, building relationships and representing, serving and aiding the Muslim communities of the Greater Chicagoland area.
Rabiyah Syed, a student at Naperville Central, loves photography and aspires to be a speech pathologist.