Our community still has a long to-do list
Muslims in the Chicago area have come a long way with the increased number of masajid and full-time and weekend schools in our community. We have zabiha meat stores in every area and lots of restaurants to choose from as well. A lot of credit goes to the pioneers of the community who invested time, money and energy into building this infrastructure so that Muslims today have so many choices in where they would like to pray, learn and eat.
However, I believe we may not need more masajid, we need to fill the existing ones with more people. We do not need more meat stores; we need to improve the level of customer service in the ones that are already established. Our community has a lot of accomplishments under our belt but the work is far from done. We already have more than the basic skeletal structure to uphold the community; we now need to divert our resources into social services that are integral for our success.
I spoke with Ayesha Akhtar who recently organized a wellness workshop for Muslim girls and she told me that the number one reason why so many of our daughters do not exercise is because there are few gyms that cater to women only. So many girls had swimming on their list of favorite activities but there are hardly any places they can swim at regularly. Instead of having fundraising dinners to expand masajid that are full only on jumah and in Ramadan, it would be great to have a fully-equipped “community center” with activities for both boys and girls. If we cannot have a girls-only gym and pool, we can at least have different timings so everyone can enjoy the facilities while adhering to the guidelines of Islam.
I spoke with attorney Amina Saeed a few months ago about the need for licensed Muslim foster homes and how the possibility of a “group home” for children is needed in the community. I received just two responses to our July 2009 centerfold but no one expressed serious support to help establish such a group home.
I spoke to Tehmina Hammad about where she took her family sightseeing when they were visiting Chicago from Jordan. Among the regular attractions, she said the Bahai Temple is a place they take all their guests. It made me wish we had a Muslim “visitors center” of sorts where people from all faiths can come and learn about our faith at their own pace. Our masajid are beautiful and we are fortunate to kneel on plush carpet in a climate-controlled space to pray or learn Quran. However, from an outsider’s point of view, it would be great to have a center or museum in Chicago with interactive exhibits, displays, timelines of Muslim contributions to science and so much more.
I spoke to Haroon Firduasi from Muslim Funeral Services and he shared some good news that two new Muslim funeral homes will be opening in the suburbs in 2010. Such facilities make it much easier to carry out the special burial rites of Muslims.
If people value the need for Muslim funeral homes, then Muslim shelters for abused women or nursing homes for senior citizens should not be viewed any differently. If we recognize that our community is not immune to domestic violence, then we need to invest in more such shelters where members of our community can turn to in distress. If our seniors who have spent the prime of their life in laying the groundwork for the community need to be in assisted living or nursing care facilities, it is our turn to provide them with halal meals, places for prayer and other such activities so that they do not spend their retirement years in discomfort as a minority who needs to make special requests to caregivers.
Our pioneers have paved the way. Now, it is our turn to maintain the framework they have provided and accentuate it with supplemental services such as senior centers, foster homes, gyms, museums. If prayer space is tight at Friday prayer, perhaps the larger masjids can have three or four sessions instead of expanding the space that remains mostly empty the rest of the time.
While prayer space is sacred, we should weigh the costs and benefits of expanding masjids that are at capacity only one day a week or only one month a year at the expense of these services that can be used every single day.