Illinois Muslims Among the Most Diverse and Vibrant in the Nation

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Muslims living in Illinois said they feel optimistic about their future after a report released Thursday showed Muslims in the state are the most diverse and one of the fastest growing religious communities. fastest in the country, with more Muslims per capita in Illinois than any other. State.

The Muslim Civic Coalition of Illinois, Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and the University of Illinois at Chicago Institute of Politics and Civic Engagement has teamed up to launch the first Illinois Muslim Needs, Assets, and Opportunities Reporta project that lasted three years and was unveiled Thursday at the university.

Dilara Sayeed, president of the Muslim Civic Coalition of Illinois, said the impetus for the report was partly personal experience for her. She said that a few years ago she went through the stuff of her stepfather, who had just died, and she found a little pamphlet that said, “Muslims in Illinois: A Demographic Study.” . Sayeed said her interest was “piqued”, but she felt the information available was “very brief”. She wanted to do more.

“I realized that everyone was asking the same questions I was about who we are and why there’s no data to back up our stories,” Sayeed said of growing up in Illinois and growing up. how the Muslim population grew and evolved. “Then four years ago we all got together and said it was time to do something.”

The report found that 75% of Illinois Muslims are registered to vote, 83% donated to organizations or causes associated with their faith community, and 12% of Illinois Muslim respondents identified as self-employed or ran their own business, creating more than 350,000 jobs, or nearly 6% of all jobs in Illinois.

The report also shows that 40% of Muslims in Illinois have a college degree or higher, compared to 28% of the general public in the state. Responses showed that Muslims in Illinois are the youngest in the state and nation, and that the Muslim sample in Illinois was on average younger than the general public in the state, with 50% of the Muslim sample between 18 and 35 years old, compared to 42% of the general public. public, according to the report.

“What these numbers say is that we have a growing, civically engaged population that wants and needs to be represented,” said state Rep. Theresa Mah, a Democrat who represents Chinatown. “For us to do this well, we need the kind of detailed, high-quality data in this report that makes it possible.”

Mah, who said she was the only Asian American in the Illinois General Assembly during her first term before “our numbers doubled or even tripled,” said she was ” proud to serve in the Legislature” of a diverse state and “even prouder” to see diversity and representation in Illinois growing exponentially. She said she wanted to help this growing population feel heard and reflected in state policy.

Some of the community needs identified in the report are increased access to culturally appropriate mental health services, solutions to a “distressing” level of religious discrimination, and a desire for more affordable halal food options.

“We need our government and law enforcement on our side to help us fight discrimination and hate, Sayeed said. “Here are great opportunities that the report says our public servants, businesses and philanthropic organizations can help us seize.”

Illinois is home to a Muslim population representative of many races, ethnicities and other demographics, according to the report, making the understanding of the community here representative of the understanding of Muslims in America, Sayeed said.

The coalition and its partners hosted an event Thursday at the university to discuss the report’s findings as well as what can be learned from the data on the Muslim community. Elected officials, community leaders and many others participated in the discussion, including Mah, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, and State Senator Ram Villivalam, a Democrat from Chicago.

Wafa Mohamad, who watched Thursday’s event via Zoom, is originally from Chicago and now lives in the southern suburbs. He said the report presents “quantifiable numbers that cannot be ignored” and should be used as a building block to provide the resources needed to help the Muslim community in the public arena, especially in public schools.

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“There is a lot of misinformation about Muslims,” Mohamad said. “It’s refreshing to have an up-to-date resource that can be used to combat this misinformation with quantifiable data, not just sightings or anecdotes. It renews my hope for the future of Illinois and the prosperity of Muslims. of this state.

Villivam said he was “honoured” to represent a district that is about 15% Muslim American. He said Thursday that this report is a step in the right direction but there is still a lot to be done.

“We will work together, you have our commitment,” he said. “We will do the round tables, we will work hand in hand in Springfield. We will use this data and use this report to educate our colleagues and inform our policy.

Sayeed said a report like this is a “big task” and involves a lot of planning, community outreach and more. She said it took “several months” over three years to get nearly 2,000 responses to a 10-15 minute survey. It was also important, she said, to make sure the responses came from across the state and from people from diverse backgrounds.

Specific goals that Sayeed said she would like to see achieved in the near future as a result of the report are more cultural competency training, support for communities “who are often invisible and marginalized” within education systems and law enforcement, more philanthropic dollars for Muslim nonprofit organizations performing social service or civic engagement work statewide, and for elected officials to hire Muslim community leaders while throughout the process of developing policies and legislation.

Lincolnwood resident Muqtadar Ahmed said the report, the first of its kind, is “crucial” to begin to unpack the state’s Muslim community and clarify its strengths and contributions. He said the report will help the Muslim community “realize its full potential”.

“I hope this report serves as a foundation for our state’s leaders to drive thoughtful, data-driven policymaking, while also encouraging our business leaders to broaden the lens through which they see their efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion, which are often short-sighted and focused on one or a few dimensions of diversity,” Ahmed said. “The Muslim community brings a unique and diverse perspective that can strengthen the fabric of communities and businesses in our state.

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