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Seven refugees grateful for new home, worry about relatives in Lebanon

Daily Herald Staff Writer, Posted Sunday, October 15, 2006

If Hassan and Iman Al Samurrai could get better TV reception with a basic antenna, they'd be glued to the small screen in their Glen Ellyn apartment. After years of waiting, the couple and their five children, ages 2 to 17, emigrated from Lebanon in late June, not a moment too soon.Just days later, the war between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah militants began, with Israel dropping missiles into Beirut, the Al Samurrais' former hometown. If they had cable or satellite TV, they would have been scouring news footage for a glimpse of one of their many friends and relatives caught in the skirmish. They'd agonize over their inability to bring some relatives here to safety. They left behind Iman's two brothers, several aunts, uncles and cousins - family and friends who lived in and around the bombed area of Beirut. Even now, as the violence has subsided, they still haven't accounted for all their loved ones.
Hassan Al Samurrai, endured a difficult odyssey to make it the U.S. in late June. A native of Iraq, he was persecuted under Saddam Hussein’s regime and eventually fled to Syria, where he was jailed. "The whole area has been destroyed," Hassan Al Samurrai said through an interpreter. After days of uncertainty, the couple learned that dozens of people they know in Lebanon had gone underground. But one brother suffers from mental disorders and panics every time bombs go off, and the other brother's health is precarious because he has artificial intestines. The latter is trying to care for his brother in addition to supporting his own wife and two children. "My brother was crying out of despair ... pleading for help," Iman said through an interpreter. "It's not livable underground." The Al Samurrais are relieved for their good fortune, leaving just before the airports shut down. But they are concerned over the continued turmoil in their homeland.
"I don't care who gets the land," Hassan Al Samurrai says. "I just want peace so people can live." Starting over - again Settling in the Western suburbs has been just another bittersweet chapter in the 48-year-old Hassan Al Samurrai's odyssey. He was born and raised in Iraq, where he counted himself fortunate to hold sergeant's rank in the police force. That was until one day in the early 1980s, when he found himself facing charges of political crimes because, he said, a friend was outspoken against Saddam Hussein's regime. Believing he'd never get a fair trial under Saddam's rule, Al Samurrai fled for Syria, leaving behind five brothers. It wasn't an ideal choice but the best he had: He knew Syria wouldn't deport him to Iraq because of the political climate between the two countries at the time. Jordan and Turkey likely would have sent him back, he said. But, without a passport or other travel documents, Al Samurrai had to explain to Syrian officials why he sought entrance to their county. He was promptly jailed.
During the yearlong incarceration that followed, he said he was repeatedly beaten with sticks, given electrical shocks and burned by cigarettes. He was kept in a box not much larger than a small filing cabinet with a hole for his head. All the prisoners were "packed in like sardines," he said. But at least he was alive. The Syrian government eventually recognized him as a refugee, released him and sent him to Lebanon. It was there he met his wife, Iman, now 39, whose own parents and their families had fled Palestine in 1939. The couple married in 1987, eventually having three sons, Koutaba, now 17, Hussein, 16; and Mohammad Ali, 2, who was named for the boxer, his parents said; and two daughters, Nahida, 15, and Isha, 12. As a refugee in Lebanon, though, Hassan lacked the same rights as legal citizens and was denied many opportunities.
The family most recently lived in a two-room, windowless basement apartment they often shared with rats. Hassan struggled to make ends meet. His work as a bodyguard and chauffeur paid barely enough to feed his family and provide other basics. "I had no future there," he said. 'Castle' in Glen Ellyn Hope blossomed anew in 1994 when Lebanon granted Hassan official refugee status, opening the door for him to apply to emigrate. Finding a country to accept the family proved difficult. Canada, Australia and Finland turned them down before the U.S. granted them entrance. Worrying about their relatives in Lebanon and Iraq has been the bittersweet flip-side to making a new life in Glen Ellyn. "This is a castle," Hassan said of their three-bedroom apartment with kitchen, dining area and family room near Roosevelt Road.
The family is trying to learn English through a program at nearby Faith Lutheran Church coordinated by DuPage United, the social service network. And life is still a struggle. Iman got a job cleaning hotel rooms but since had to give it up, partially because of health issues. Hassan, whose leg remains weak from an old bullet wound, still hasn't found work but remains optimistic. That positive attitude, common among the refugee students in the ESL program, impressed its organizers and tutors. "They've shown so much resilience," said a program organizer, Naazish YarKhan. "They're just happy to be alive."

By kgrondin@dailyherald.com dailyherald.com

Art of journal writing meant to be shared

Art of journal writing meant to be shared
BY Sandy Stevens

Naazish YarKahn offers gifts for the future — for an unborn child; gifts of the past — of memories and mementoes; and gifts for the present — of ideas and imagination.
Next month, the Glen Ellyn resident will guide others in the "write" way to create such gifts through three classes offered for the first time by the Glen Ellyn Park District: Journaling for New and Expectant Moms, Journaling for Seniors and Little Shakespeares.
She is also the creative mind behind Writers Studio in downtown Glen Ellyn, where she offers creative writing workshops for 4- to 15-year-olds and journaling and writing classes for people of all ages and interests.

Writing in the New and Expectant Moms class results in a gift for the child and for the parent, YarKhan said. One aspect of the workshop might be writing down the parent's dreams for the baby. "This is 'My child: Welcome to the world. This is how we decided to have you,'" YarKhan said, "and you write a little about who you are and where you are in your own life."

Writing also becomes a relationship-building tool, she stressed, adding that her children — 7-year-old Taskeen, a second-grader at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School; and Yousef, a 3-year-old preschooler — love stories about themselves.

"In the case of an unforeseen event," YarKhan said, "I also want them to know 'This is who we were when you were little, this is how we waited for you and these were our dreams and expectations,' as well as whatever was important to us at this time: 'This was the year we went to war with Iraq; this was when we went into space.'

"Then the journal becomes a pause in time," she said. "People buy things for their kids, but more important is that you be there." Although the course title refers to moms, fathers or both parents are welcome in the class, YarKhan said. "They're going to have very different stories.
"It'd also be open to grandparents if they're really keyed into this gift," she said. "Children should have roots."

Seniors, who often feel isolated, benefit through journaling by connecting in a room full of strangers, YarKhan said. "The connection comes from things that are deep within you, such as friendships, things that are the cornerstone of who you are," she said.
Sharing writing is always optional, but expressing oneself in this safe environment can be therapeutic, YarKhan said. "It's not a critique; it's a bonding process. There's someone to listen to you even if there's no one else."

Seniors also will have an opportunity to bring a special item to class, tell the other members about it and create a poem about its meaning. "This is about how or what you are because of a time or an event," YarKhan said. The Little Shakespeares workshop for 8- to 13-year-olds develops and strengthens what children are working on in school, YarKhan said.
"All the skills you learn in writing, whether it's cause and effect or grouping together ideas, carry over to other areas of the curriculum."
And writing doesn't have to be painful.

"It doesn't have to be Shakespeare. Hip-hop is poetry," she pointed out. "It's whatever you want it to be. This country was built on ideas and imagination."
YarKhan never gives the young students writing topics because she believes they have enough assigned topics in school, but grammar and punctuation must be correct.
"It's like fine-tuning a machine," she said. "It's not an add-on."
She also stresses a goal of getting work published, something YarKhan first accomplished at age 15, as a contributor to a teen scene column in her native India. By 18, she was writing freelance features on extreme sports such as hang gliding.
Coming from "a very supportive family of letter writers," she simply always wrote, she said.
"I didn't think I would do anything else; it's what I always did," she said. "It was like 'This is who I am.'
"Some people run. I write."

YarKhan's bylines have appeared in more than two dozen publications, and two of daughter Taskeen's stories have been published in Chicago Parent magazine.
YarKhan is hoping to use her experience as a parent and a writer to become an artist-in-residence through PTAs in School District 41. She also is interested in presenting a series of workshops to play groups or homeschooled children or taking the instruction into Montessori schools.
"It fits into their concept of students leading the way," she said.

For information on YarKhan's Glen Ellyn Park District classes, call (630) 942-0463 or visit http://www.gepark.org/ . For information on classes at the Writers Studio, call (630) 915-8654 or e-mail bigmomentum@hotmail.com.

Sandy Stevens has lived in Glen Ellyn since 1984. Contact her at ssmamabear@aol.com or c/o The Sun, 1500 W. Ogden Ave., Naperville, IL 60540.

Many cultures, a single goal

Many cultures, a single goal
English-language class a melting pot

By Kathryn Grondin
Daily Herald Staff WriterPosted Sunday, October 15, 2006

The proverbial pot is melting in the basement of a Glen Ellyn Lutheran church.
Around cafeteria tables sit a teenage jockey, a Muslim nurse, a bodyguard, a Sudanese mother of two, an Iraqi salon owner and a Lutheran high school student.
From their disparate backgrounds, they come together with the common goal to build better lives through English-language classes.
“It’s amazing. My heart is just huge right now. This takes a lot of courage for everybody,” said Maryanna Milton of the People’s Resource Center in Wheaton. “It’s like seeing a puzzle of the world coming together.”
Milton said this English as a Second Language program differs from others — not just in the diversity of its students but in its organizers and tutors.
They include teens with the Darien-based Mohammed Webb Foundation, which seeks to bridge Islamic practices with American culture; representatives from the People’s Resource Center in Wheaton and DuPage United, two social service agencies; and members of Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn and mosques in Villa Park and Glendale Heights.
The students include Christian and Muslim children alike, as well as adults from Lebanon, Poland, Sudan and elsewhere.
“This is a thrilling moment for us to see different people from different cultures and different faiths learning from one another,” said Debbie Fulks, a member of Faith Lutheran and DuPage United.
Adds Milton: “That’s what’s really going to lead to better understanding of each other and of different cultures … We are so similar.”
Nicole Mohiuddin of Lake in the Hills is a nurse who attends the Islamic Foundation mosque in Villa Park. Born and raised in the U.S. by her Indian father and Polish mother, she got involved after receiving an e-mail asking if she’d like to help Muslim refugees.
Seventeen-year-old Lindsay Hornell of Glen Ellyn got involved just because she wanted to volunteer and fill some of her free time over the summer.
“It’s so much more fun than I thought it was going to be. I was nervous at first, at the thought of teaching someone to speak English,” she said. “I love it. It’s very rewarding.”
Fulks said the program works on several levels: It’s building a stronger community by showing people how to become involved and solve issues, it’s increasing literacy awareness, it’s teaching others English and it’s enabling both students and tutors to learn about other cultures and faiths.
One student, Rugaya Sourein, grew up in Sudan but fled civil war there a few years ago. She lived in Egypt for 18 months before coming to the U.S. with her husband. The couple, who have two young daughters, came for the freedom and educational opportunities.
A former chauffeur and bodyguard, Hassan Al Sumarrai lived in Lebanon for 24 years and fled in late June with his wife, Iman, and their five children. They came for the chance at a better life, for more than surviving in a windowless two-room apartment.
Guma Adam, who is uncertain of his own age but estimated it at 35, roamed between four countries before coming to the U.S. He lived in Sudan until 1983, when he fled to Egypt for three months before going to Iraq for six years, then Turkey for two years, returning to Iraq for four years and briefly venturing back into Sudan.
“I wanted to see if the situation improved, but it was worse. In Sudan, there is no life,” he said.
His father was killed because he was a Christian. Two brothers and other relatives have tried to flee to Chad but remain trapped in a no-man’s land between the two countries’ border patrols.
“Some are starving. They’re not OK,” he says.
In just the first few sessions, participants forged bridges.
A Muslim man and a Christian man sit side by side at the same table learning English.
“In their own countries, they probably wouldn’t even be able to talk to each other,” Fulks said.
Likewise, Muslim teens and their Christian counterparts remained in their respective groups at the training session, but they mingled during the activities at the subsequent tutoring kickoff class.
A Sudanese man serves as a translator for an Iraqi native who knows even less English.
An Iraqi man filled with contempt for Syrian jailers who had beaten him finds friendship with a tutor whose ancestors hail from Syria.
At another session, a male voice chanting prayers in an adjacent room spills into the tutoring room.
“He’s leading a Muslim prayer in a Christian building. Only in America,” program coordinator Naazish YarKhan said. “It’s collaboration, cooperation. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Voice of Rachel Corrie

RACHEL CORRIE: “Sometimes it takes awhile for it to set in what is happening here, because I think many of the people here, they try to maintain what they can of their lives, and I think -- I don't know -- maybe it has to do with protecting their children, that they try to be happy, joke with their children. So sometimes it takes time to -- it's hard to hold in your mind, you know, the complete reality of what's happening here. Sometimes I’m sitting down to dinner with people, and I just realize that there is a massive military machine surrounding them and trying to kill these people that I'm having dinner with, these families that I’m sitting down to eat with and who are being very generous and kind to me, and their children here, who are incredibly threatened, living lives that no child ever should have to live. And so, I feel a lot of horror. Really, I feel a lot of horror about the situation.” – Rachel Corrie, in Gaza, two days before her death, in the documentary “Rachel Corrie: An American Conscience”, directed by Yahya Barakat. Purchase it at www.palestineonlinestore.com/films/american.htm

Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American peace activist, was killed on March 16, 2003 -- crushed when she stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer set to demolish a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip. March 16 will mark her 4th death anniversary. A play, “The Voice of Rachel Corrie,” written by David Gilbert and Grace Richardson, was performed in her honor, on Sunday, February 11, in Oak Park. Rachel's life, death, and legacy were examined in this staged dramatic reading featuring a cast of six.

As Farhat Khan noted, Muslims in the audience were conspicuous by their negligible presence. “When Rachel Corrie was murdered, I looked up websites and news just to see if there was even a possibility that this could have been an accident or if they had actually killed an American,” Farhat added. “If the Israeli’s can run a bull dozer over a white American peace activist, the Palestinian people haven’t a chance.”As I watched the play, it dawned on me how differently non-Muslims, by and large, tend to advocate peace and justice. The hysteria and violence that marks so many protests by Muslims all over the world, is absent amongst activists be it the Christian Peacemaker Teams or Rachel’s Group, International Solidarity Movement. Perhaps, our knee jerk reactions are rooted in a sense of disenfranchisement, or speak of a people pushed to the limits of endurance. Or perhaps it exemplifies little else than our ignorance, our barely-thought out anger, our misdirected energy. I wondered if Muslims, especially young adults, would have done for people of another faith, what Rachel was doing for a predominantly Muslim
people? By the time the play, a barebones production, ended there was barely a dry eye in the crowd.

The original play, "My Name is Rachel Corrie" (based on the writings of the Corrie before her death ), was a victim to censorship and did not open as scheduled, in March 2006, in New York theaters where is it is still playing. The move drew criticism from activists and actors, alike.In a letter published in The New York Times, the 2006 Pulitzer prize-winning writer, Harold Pinter wrote, “We are Jewish writers who supported the Royal Court production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie. We are dismayed by the decision of the New York Theatre Workshop to cancel or postpone the play's production. We believe that this is an important play, particularly, perhaps, for an American audience that too rarely has an opportunity to see and judge for itself the material it contends with.” The other signatories to the letter included, Gillian Slovo, Stephen Fry, and 18 others.The letter continued: “In London it played to sell-out houses. Critics praised it. Audiences found it intensely moving. So what is it about Rachel Corrie's writings, her thoughts, her feelings, her confusions, her idealism, her courage, her search for meaning in life -- what is it that New York audiences must be protected from?” The play finally did open weeks later, in October 2006.

“The Voice of Rachel Corrie,” is directed by David Gilbert, with projected visuals by Matt Gaines, who is well known in the Palestinian community and a founder of the Stop Cat. Coalition. The bulldozer that killed Corrie was an export by U.S. based, Caterpillar company. The story of this idealistic young woman is also a reminder of the many other lives tragically cut short by violence, but largely unnoticed and unmourned outside the war zone. The play was sponsored by The Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine and the American Friends Service Committee

Greg Mortenson and Three Cups of Tea

Eighty-four children attend school, sitting on a frosty ledge, with no roof over their heads, writing on the ground with sticks. Since they can’t afford their own teacher at one dollar a day, they share one with a neighbouring village. Appalled, an injured, American mountaineer attempting to climb K2, (who villagers have been nursing for several days), rashly promises the villagers he will build them a school. What follows includes being kidnapped and held captive in Afghanistan, death threats by Americans post 9/ 11, and two “encounters” with the CIA. Two separate fatawas issued against him, to banish him from Pakistan for educating girls, are repealed by enlightened clerics.

Is this a movie script? Not yet. It is, however, the reality of one man who continues to change the face of education in the remote, mountain provinces of Pakistan. It’s the story of a mountaineer turned humanitarian, Greg Mortensen, written with David Oliver Relin, and condensed into the award-winning pages of THREE CUPS OF TEA: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations ... One School at a Time.

Greg Mortenson’s book illustrates how and why he decided to build 55 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “When I see those little girls — their tiny bare feet, or in plastic Chinese boots, walking to school — those little footprints in the dust may be tiny, but I think of Neil Armstrong on the moon. She’ll become a role model, a giant leap for her community.” Case in point: a girl named Aziza who was the first educated female in the Charpusan Valley, northern Pakistan. Before her maternal healthcare training, five to 20 women died in childbirth every year in her valley — there were no doctors, medicine or clinics — and one out of three children died before the age of one. Since she received her training and returned to her village in 2000, not one woman has died in childbirth, and the infant mortality rate has gone down to about one in five.

Greg Mortenson’s work transcends personal boundaries of language, culture, race and religion. He has made tremendous personal endeavours to build cultural bridges with the people of Northern Pakistan and speaks Balti, Farsi and Urdu. In addition to reading the Quran and studying Islam, he invariably portrays a positive image of Muslims in all his interviews and publicity appearances.Excerpts from a short interview with Greg

Why did you feel compelled to stick to the task despite the hurdles?

Greg Mortenson: When I look into the eyes of the children in Pakistan and Afghanistan I see my own two children, Amira Eliana and Khyber Khan. That motivates me. As adults we all have failed to bring peace to the world, and we owe it to all our children to leave them a legacy of peace.I’ve often heard Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders say ‘God is on our side’ but actually Allah Almighty is on the side of the widow, refugee and orphan and that is who we should be of service to. Allah is not on the side of any football team, and Jihadi who commits suicide to kill women and children or justifies the murder of even one innocent child by collateral damage from a Tomahawk Cruise Missile. The real enemy is ignorance, which breeds hatred, whether it’s in Pakistan, Afghanistan or America.

Q: What is the one situation you will never forget?

A: The one thing I will never forget is that after 9/11, everywhere I went in Pakistan, I was touched by an outpouring of sympathy and kindness. A poor widow, named Hawa, brought me five precious eggs to give to the New York widows. I was invited into mosques for prayers of peace, but when I came back to America I received dozens of hate mail and even death threats for helping Muslim children with schools. So the real enemy is ignorance, even in America.What advice do you have for others?A lesson I learned from Haji Ali, an elderly chief and village Cha Cha, that it is more important to listen than talk and to let the communities be empowered to do the work themselves, rather than tell them what to do.

Q: How do the challenges of your work with the schools compare with your challenges as a mountaineer?

A: Both are difficult and rewarding. On a mountain, one must listen to their ‘inner voice’ or intuition to overcome many obstacles. I’ve learned from many years of living and working in Pakistan and Afghanistan that it is also important to ‘listen to your heart’ or your intuition. And as the book title implies, it’s important to have ‘three cups of tea’ to do business in that part of the world. The first cup of dudh patti (Pakistan sweet milk tea) or kahawa (green tea in Afghanistan) — you are a stranger.The second cup — you become a friend. And the third cup — you become family — but the process takes several years and is about relationships. When you are family, your hosts are prepared to even die for you. Here in America, we have two minute football drills, thirty minute power lunches, drive through fast food, and six second TV sound bytes, but in Pakistan and Afghanistan it takes three cups of tea.

The book’s subtitle — One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations One School at a Time (chosen by the publisher) is a distortion. I don’t really care about fighting terror. The biggest issues in the world we need to address today are poverty, illiteracy, ignorance. Ignorance breeds hatred.

Q: Both agenda’s must have been fulfilling. How did the nature of the fulfillment differ?

A: Climbing is a temporary reward, after you reach the top of a mountain, you soon want to go again to another peak. Working for years to get one hardened mullah to agree to let the girls go to school, and then one day watching that girl walk down a dusty trail to start her education — is the most incredible experience I know. Behind that brave girl will come hundreds of more girls, and later they will become mothers — and the value of education instilled in the communities.

There is an African proverb which I believe in (I grew up in Tanzania for 15 years from 1958 to 1973: If you educate a boy, you educate an individual, but if you educate a girl, you educate a community.) There are over 145 million children in the world today deprived of education, aged 5-14, and the cost to provide them an education is only about $1 per month per child. The total cost would be a global investment of $ 6 billion per year for 15 years. Last year, the US government spent $94.2 billion in Iraq and $14 billion in Afghanistan only for the military on the ‘war on terror’. With the same money we could eliminate global illiteracy in 18 months!

(Additional input from Sadia Ashraf)


Chicago’s Muslim community is abuzz with activity in Ramadan. My hope is that learning of these efforts will encourage a cross pollination of ideas and spur similar activities and initiatives on your side of the globe. In a world where everything seems to be going wrong and misunderstandings and accusations abound, these efforts are a glimmer of hope. A reminder that “if it is to be, it’s up to me.”


UMMA Center (
www.ummacenters.org) a nonprofit organization based in Waukegan, IL and IRIM (www.irim.org) (Interfaith Refugee Immigrant Ministries --a nonprofit refugee and immigrant services organization) also in Chicago, are coordinating a “Ramadan Adopt a Family Initiative.”

“We are asking families, businesses, Sunday schools and playgroups to assist these disadvantaged refugee families by providing them basic household items and school supplies for their children,” says Amina Khan, coordinator of the project. The majority of families are Muslim and handful, though not Muslim, are still in need of assistance. “We provide the family's name, number of members, age/gender of children, their contact information and a suggested shopping list with household items and school. You can either buy all or some of the items yourself. All items should be new and unopened.”

“We recommend home deliveries because they provide opportunities for Muslims to personally reach out to the refugee families,” says Khan. Busy families, however, can opt to have the items shipped or gift cards mailed. UMMAH and IRIM can assist with coordinating the deliveries as well.

“I think the "Ramadan Adopt a Family Initiative" is a great chance for Muslim youth and their families to help out their needy Muslim brothers and sisters in Chicagoland. During Ramadan, with Allah's blessing, the goodwill and reward will grow exponentially. And most importantly, InshAllah, this effort will help increase awareness about a neglected but very needy community – Chicagoland refugee families,” says Khan.

Islamic Relief goes where few others tread. “Cargo containers carrying 85 tons of aid -- including medical supplies, hygiene kits, powdered milk, baby formula and hand soap -- arrived in the port of Beirut over the weekend in a joint relief effort of Islamic Relief USA and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” The Press-Enterprise reported on Aug. 8, 2006. The Guardian attributes the organizations success to a key factor. “..its ability to work with other faith-based groups, such as Cafod and Jewish charities, means IR can operate in places that may be too dangerous for others. It is the only international non-governmental organization in Chechnya, and is the last left in Afghanistan.”

For the third consecutive year, Islamic Relief USA has been awarded with a 4-star rating by Charity Navigator, the largest charity evaluator in the United States. Less than 12% of the charities rated by Charity Navigator have received at least two consecutive 4-star evaluations. “ A 4-star rating from Charity Navigator means your supporters can be assured that Islamic Relief is worthy of their trust and commitment," reads a note from Trent Stamp, Executive Director, Charity Navigator.


Just as important are the inter-faith efforts by mosques. Faith Lutheran Church in nearby Glen Ellyn, had a truck load of household goods being shipped to Mississippi for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Millions are still homeless and many displaced there. Mosques and Muslim Schools are joining hands with Faith Lutheran Church to help fill that truck with everything from Vaseline to pain medication and diapers.

Cardinal George and Catholics of the Archdiocese of Chicago have also accepted an invitation extended by the Muslim community to attend an Iftaar on October 9 at a brand new mosque in Orland Park, IL. Leaders of both communities are expected at this by-invitation only event with approximately 200 people in attendance.

Chicago’s Islamic Council’s Inter-faith Committee Chair, Dr. Shakir Moiduddin recalled Cardinal George’s kind assistance when Orland Park residents opposed the building of the mosque. “The Cardinal wrote to the Mayor of Orland Park saying that not only was permitting the building of the mosque a moral and ethical obligation but the law of the land,” says Dr. Shakir Moiduddin.

Dominican University will host a series of ongoing local parish-mosque dialogues through the month of Ramadan and into the winter. Sister Joan McGuire, Dr. Shakir Moiduddin and the members of the Catholic-Muslim Dialogue will also hold their bi-monthly dialogue at the Priory Campus so that the Dominican University community and its neighbors may both observe and participate. The Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, which has been meeting for nine years, is co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. The topic of discussion will be “Encountering Each Other: An Experience of Catholic-Muslim Dialogue”.

Dr. Shakir Moiduddin encourages parents to invite their children’s schools, both public and private, to tours of Masjids as part of their social studies curriculum. Mosque tours are not uncommon and we look forward to opening up mosques even further, he said.


We’re going high-tech. With gas prices so high and time at an all time premium, what better way to learn up on Islam than via teleconference. Farheen Farook, a local resident, calls into a free teleconference service and types in a specific code as do others interested in her lecture. Into the phone she speaks, relaying her message, her teachings, to women calling from anywhere in the US. Alternatively, there are a multitude of online lectures to heard. Audio files are
http://www.sacredlearning.com/. The speaker, Shaik Hussain Sattar, a 33 year old physician, father and Islamic teacher is a personal favorite of mine. His words are clear, his wisdom immense and he has the capacity to touch us at the deepest level.

DePaul University's Islamic World Studies Program, in collaboration with the EastWest Institute and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs are hosting a series of town hall meetings, one each year in September, followed by small continuing dialogues in the winter and spring, that engage critical issues in Islam. By discussing important issues regarding Islam in a town hall meeting format, the aim is to foster a continuing dialogue that extends beyond the conferences and into the homes, businesses, and schools of the American public. This format will serve as a template for expanding public discourse about Islam across the country. The overall goal is to help open a door where all of us can reduce and prevent misconceptions in our communities by providing information and new insights that emerge from conversation.


“We put together a basket with chocolates, fruit preserves and food items mentioned in the Quran including olives, olive oil and dates and tied a related Ayat to each of the items and gifted it to our teachers and administrators. They loved it!” says Sameena Basha, a former resident of IL. They shared the idea with Hindu parents at school who emulated the idea for Diwali !

Muslim parents at my child’s school host a Ramadan lunch for staff with food catered from restaurants that teachers are familiar with or like!, adds Saera Arain, Oakbrook, IL

Asma Jarad, Glendale Heights, IL tells of Muslim parents in their school running a book collection drive. “We bought story books about Muslim Characters and some non-fiction about Islam and donated it to the school library. They appreciated the gesture because it helped build our collection and we did a little bit to spread some information on Islam.” Donations of books about Muslims, both fiction and non-fiction, to Public Libraries are also very appreciated.

Is A Larger Family The Best For Me?

Babies are so isolating...at least where I live. For me, pregnancies are hard. Months of sickness, days of being stuck to an IV tube since I can’t retain any food or drink, rushing to the emergency room stricken with dehydration, aches and pains all over. I relieve the days each time a friend gets pregnant and shares her woes. But then the baby arrives. Ah, one would think the best had arrived. And yes, by God’s grace, the best has arrived. But as the days drift into nothing but diaper changes, lugging infant car seats all over the place, double wrapping baby and self many a time before setting foot outdoors and inexplicable crying ( by mom and baby), one really begins to wonder at the insanity of it all. It’s not babies I have anything against. It’s the situations that come with it.

We have two children by the grace of God. I’m close to hitting 35 and know that if I want to have another I should act quickly. But I hesitate. Nothing jars me more than the isolation and lost freedom that comes with baby and being a stay-home mom. Being a working mom with a newborn isn’t all that appealing either. Droopy eyed, bed head look, bewildered. That would be the woman called Me. And I’m not alone. No wonder postpartum depression is a real and thriving creature. It hits me harder I suppose because, truth be told, I am a control freak and like my ducks in a row and my freedom to do as I will, when I will. With both my kids in school now, I actually am able to get the things I want done, done. I can finally envision a career and well rested nights….until the kids’ teen years anyway. I can walk out the door without having to bundle up baby and snap her into a car seat or hear her wail in the backseat, shopping cart, at a Parent Teaching meeting, having your pick. You get the picture.

When the kids are little, there really is a loss of control over any semblance of a schedule or being master of your own day. The only thing you can barely make it in time for are the mommy-kid gatherings. So desperate are we for some adult company, for a release from our daily mind-numbing doings. They say misery loves company. Well, we weren’t miserable, though I admit we constantly felt challenged and exhausted, but moms with toddlers and babies, the best advice I’d ever share is ‘Get some friends who are in the same boat!” When you groan and moan, they offer empathy. When you cheer and beam with pride, they can relate. And there’s nothing in the world that shoots some courage into your spine as the feeling that someone understands you, someone listens with their heart.

And yet, now that I have my freedom back, the children have grown to become my biggest pride and joy. It’s probably not the wisest of things but I doubt I am as attached to anyone as I am to them. They are my snuggle-wuggle partners, my bed time with mother partners. And then I read something called “Hold onto Your Kids” and have become as determined as ever to be my kids confidant, the person they turn to with good or bad news. I am dogged about having a relationship with them that goes beyond, “Now eat or I’ll tell your dad!”, “Did you pick your clothes off the floor?” or “And whose going to help me unload the dishwasher?.” I want to be mommy who reads together with them, mommy who does puzzles with them and mommy who knows how to laugh at a joke. Those things take time too. Time and energy. But no one said anything in life was free. All relationships require investment, beginning with the one even with God!

So back to the question that began this soul searching. Is baby number three to-be or not to be? So much of how we relate to kids is done on auto-pilot. Do I have what it takes to rise beyond that? To be the parent who knows not to yell if the kids are driving me up the wall, to be the parent that holds my tongue and not take it out on the kids when I’m having a bad day, or the parent who doesn’t spiral towards being mean-spirited when exhausted. In other words, am I up to the challenge of being a positive parent? Can I financially afford to put off having a career and beginning saving for college for my first two kids? I don’t know.

For those indecisive like me there is a prayer that Muslims invoke called the “Istikara”. It translates from Arabic as: “O' my ilãh I ask your guidance due to Your knowledge, and I ask Your help due to your ability. For You are able and I'm not able, You know and I don't know, and You are the one that knows the hidden matters. O' my 'ilãh if You know that this matter -and you name it by its name- is better for me in my faith, my livelihood, the aftermath of my affair, its short term, and its long term, then decree it for me, make it easy for me, and bestow blessings for me in it; and if You know that this affair is bad for me in my faith, my livelihood, the aftermath of my affair, its short term, and its long term, then turn it away from me, and turn me away from it; and decree for me the good where ever it is, and then content me with it.” It’s a simple yet easily overlooked entreaty. One that I have to remind myself is an option, and a great one at that.

It is said that one that asks the Creators' guidance in a matter, and consults with His creation, then acts deliberately would never regret his action. For God The Exalted in Chapter Al-lmrãn V. 159 of the Quran says:

And consult them in the matter [of moment]. Then when you have taken a decision put your trust in God. For God loves those who put their trust [in Him]

How powerful. No matter what each of us may call Him, when at the cross roads as I am, nothing could help more than a conversation with the “guy in the sky” as my kids fondly call Him. As for how things pan out, I’ll be sure to keep you posted !

Making Sense of the Immigration Debate - What's All the Ruckus About?

“Dear President Bush, I, Saul Arellano, age 7, an American Citizen, do now formally request a meeting with you. I request that you grant safe passage for my mother, Elvira Arellano, so that she can be with me at this meeting and can return safely to our church. I request also that our pastor, Rev Walter Coleman and his wife, Emma Lozano, and my congressmen Luis Gutierrez and Bobby Rush, and Rafael Pulido and Abel Uribe and my friend Daysha DelValle also be present at this meeting.

I want to tell you why I believe my mother should be allowed to stay with me in my country. I want to tell you also that there are more than 3 million children like me. We are U.S. Citizens but the government is taking away our mothers and fathers.”
-Saul Arellano Citizen

That was the letter delivered by Saul Arellano to President Bush asking him to intervene and stop the eminent deportation of his mother to Mexico. Elvira Arellano, an employee at O’Hare, was due for deportation August 15 having been found to be working under a false social security number. Desperate for her son Saul, a U.S. citizen, to retain his rights to live in America and to stay in the country with him, the mother and son took refuge in Adalberto United Methodist Church in Humboldt Park. They've been there almost six months now. The situation is not a new one. Elvira’s issues with immigration have been ongoing since 2002. Her efforts have included participating in lobbying, organizing people to go to DC and she even joined the Family Unity Campaign in May when she went on a liquids only, hunger strike with others for 23 days. “I’ve been actively involved and am committed to it for as long as it takes for some sort of legalization to take place,” she said commenting on her seeking refuge at Church, which she hasn’t been able to leave, since August. “I understand what a lengthy process it is." Elvira continues to receive visitors on a daily basis, both those seeking inspiration and those offering encouragement.
Last month, Saul and Emma Lozano, the executive director of Centro Sin Fronteras, attended the National Latino Congress in Los Angeles , to garner legal support and media attention. We spoke with Elvira Arellano to see how they were holding up. ”It’s a difficult for him, being a child,” said Elvira, “but he feels strongly about doing this and is more than willing to do it, because it could he help him have his mother stay with him in the country. He’s never been to Mexico and doesn’t know that country. Moving would mean uprooting him from everything he considers home.”

If President Bush doesn’t meet with Saul and others in the group within two weeks, as requested in his letter, the plan is to have children, who have at least one undocumented parent, converge on the Capital. “An estimate of about 4 million kids who are citizens would come. We want to show how important legalization is to keeping families together. Saul is not the only child affected and any legislation passed needs to be aware of that,” said Elvira.

Why don’t immigrants come legally in the first place? According to Chicago based Illinois Coaltion of Immigrant and Refugees Rights ( ICIRR), "Immigrants do want to come legally. But with legal channels so divorced from the demands of our labor market, illegal immigration is inevitable. For example, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that our economy requires some 485,000 full-time, year-round new immigrant workers each year. But current immigration laws provide just 5,000 visas for such workers annually. No wonder the system is so broken: the market demands almost 500,000 workers a year, and federal law offers 5,000! Meanwhile, our family immigration system is so inflexible that people often wait decades to reunite with loved ones. Because it’s a matter of feeding or being with their families, such narrow legal channels lead people to seek entry by whatever means necessary. If we create broader legal channels for these immigrants, most immigration will happen in a safe, legal, and orderly way."

Does that mean ICIRR supports illegal immigration? "We do not support illegal migration. We support more opportunities for people to come and live here legally. Our country has a demand for workers, and a willing supply from south of the border, but insufficient visas to facilitate their legal entry. We have close family members who face interminable separations because of an outmoded immigration system. We need to fix these mismatches. This, combined with tough enforcement, will go a long way towards solving the problem of illegal immigration," says a spokesperson.

According to ICIRR, "Our solution is not more immigration. It is more legal immigration. Our reforms take a migration flow that is currently happening under the radar screen and funnel it through the legal system. Done right, it doesn’t add a single new person to the equation. It replaces the illegal flow with a legal, orderly flow. It is just regulating what is already happening in a way that benefits both Americans already here and immigrants coming to build new lives. And let there be no doubt, we stand for caps, limits, controls, and screening. The status quo leads to uncontrolled, unlimited, and unscreened immigration. The overhaul we support will make the new limits honest, enforceable, and realistic. Plus, more workers in our economy will be covered by U.S. labor laws."

In a nutshell, "the current broken status quo rewards illegal behavior. After all employers seek out vulnerable workers, smugglers ferry workers to jobs across the border, and practically, immigrants seeking to work and hoping to join loved ones in the U.S. can only get in if they enter illegally." George Bush and Co.'s blind disregard towards fixing the immigration system and instead building more fences was exactly the kind of approach that lost Congress to the Democrats recently.

But its not just in the USA that Mexican groups are lobbying for change. Groups such as the Mexican Federation have run a voter registration campaign for all those who are still entitled to vote in Mexico, even as they live here. This was intended to mobilize support for an incumbent party back home. That the race was close was indicative of Mexicans demanding a government that would listen to them and create better opportunities for all ages, in Mexico. “Mexico has a history of suppressing its people’s voices and we wanted change,” said Elvira. But in July, the incumbents won the elections which according to Elvira only points to the corruption in the system, there. “People said it was the challengers who won, but the government in power declared itself the winner,” she explains. September 15 was Mexico’s Independence Day but as is obvious, it was only about independence for a few.

Talking With Diana Abu-Jaber, Author of Crescent, Arabian Jazz and The Language of Bakhlava

Diana Abu-Jaber, author of "Crescent" and "Arabian Jazz", was born in Syracuse, New York, "back in the days when no one in America had ever heard of hummus, much less baba ganouj." Her father, who immigrated to the States from Jordan as a young man, worked every job under the sun while he cooked up lots of wonderful food and tried to teach his children to be good Arab kids in Upstate New York.

"We moved back and forth between Jordan and the States a couple times and eventually I decided I was going to have to commit to one country. So when it was time for college, that’s when I made my final choice. I went to graduate school at SUNY-Binghamton, studied with John Gardner, got a Ph.D., and started writing seriously," says Diana.

Her first novel, “Arabian Jazz”, was published in 1993, the second, Crescent, was published in 2003—in between, she cooked for a lot of dinner parties, did a lot of teaching all over the place, and as she puts it, "didn’t do enough writing." But all that cooking did come handy when she wrote her next book, "The Language of Bakhlava." A review in Elle magazine reads,"Novelist Diana Abu-Jaber revels in the stories her father told her while she was growing up, which centered on cooking and eating but “turned out to be about something much larger: grace, difference, faith, love”; —the same qualities that inform this passionate memoir (with recipes!).

Indeed, Diana Abu-Jaber’s childhood memories are filled with cooking and eating, and she weaves her story around vividly remembered and magical-sounding meals. We follow her from upstate New York to Jordan where the family eats goat and rice mensaf with their fingers, “as the Bedu eat everything,” back to New York for her adolescent years, and to the present day where she lives in both Portland and Miami, proving, “that she really is a bedouin by nature.” Each chapter is accompanied by mouth-watering recipes from her dad’s “Subsistence Tabbouleh” and “Magical Muhammara” made with pomegranate juice, to her mom’s “Sentimental Hot Chocolate,” to her aunt’s “Poetic Baklava.” We share these meals with her—feasts that teach her, and us, as much about identity and love as about food. She tells of the richness and difficulty of straddling two cultures, about cooking and eating, and about a daughter learning from her father to understand, and finally to speak, the universal language of food. I talked to her about her book.

"The Language of Baklava....well, it was a tough book to write, mostly because I was raised with the greatest single impediment I think any writer can have, that is, to be a "good girl," she says. "In my family, you must respect your elders and treat the older generations like saints. So to try and tell my own personal truth in a book felt very risky. I wrote one version and then my agent sent it back to me and said, ‘This is a very nice and polite book. Unfortunately it's also very boring.’ So then I had to start all over and write the real story. My father got mad at me after he read it. He yelled, "I NEVER YELL!" When I told him that he yells all the time, he said, "Well you didn't have to write a book and tell everybody." I told him that the moral of that story is that you should never do anything in front of your kids that you don't want everyone to know about because they might just grow up and become writers," smiles Diana. Her mom however feels Diana "went easy" on the family.

“I think most of my father's extended family has pretty much given up on me, anyway,” she continues. When Arabian Jazz came out, relatives doled out helpful advice about everything she got wrong in my novel and how she could improve her style. “But after Crescent, and now The Language of Baklava, they see that I just keep writing the same dumb things and they've decided I'm beyond hope!”

But there are others who love her work. Not only has she won awards, but she gets fan mail too… even if some of it is weird. “I DO have a lot of people emailing to me to say that they're related to me through their second cousin twice removed, stuff like that. Several people have written to tell me that they've got a "great idea" for a book that they want me to write for them and then we can split the royalties. Many people, from all different cultures and countries-- Italy, Finland, India, Japan, etc-- have written to say they can really identify with my characters, even though they aren't Arab. And one guy, from Romania, sent me a gold ring and said that we were "soul mates."” She sent back the ring.

“I just try to tell the most entertaining and emotionally honest stories that I can. It doesn't really matter that much to me what culture my characters are from (though they usually happen to be Arab or American.) Artistically, the only thing that really gets to me is when people try to silence writers, to stop others from telling their stories. If you don't agree with how something is written, I feel like the best thing to do is to simply tell your own story, write your own book, sing your own song. Let's make the conversation bigger!”
Weird comments not withstanding, Diana does welcome readers comments on her website.
“I really do love hearing from readers!” she concludes.

What is Power? by Naazish YarKhan and Taskeen Khan, 9

What is Power?


Power is giving yourself the time and space to take one step at a time, nomatter how small, towards pursuing what really makes you tick and inpursuing it, finding the strength to grow and flourish one step at a time.Permitting yourself to understand that action towards a goal is better thaninaction is power.Power is having goals that are larger than yourself and working towardsthose with single mindedness of purpose.

Taskeen, my daughter:

If you have power, you’re respected.

Power is when most people like you and trust you and know you’re not going to trick them to do something that will harm them.

You have power if you can give someone courage to can help them climb the mountain even if they are sacred..

Power is you face what you’re sacred of. Courage is Power.

Power is believing in God even if your friends don’t believe in Him. You have to be the thick tree. You have the power to stay with what you believe even if your friends don’t.

What is Friendship?


To be the wind beneath another’s Wings. To be a good listener, an empathetic ear, someone who can point out when you’re looking for pity and need to get a life.


Friendship is like Spring. It’s always growing and in spring everything grows and flourishes. If your friendship is like winter, it means you’re friendship isn’t growing, it’s dying because in winter things don’t grow, they die. And if you say your friendship is like all the different seasons you’re saying sometimes it’s growing and sometimes it’s dying and sometimes it growing and it goes in a cycle, like the seasons. My friendships are like Spring.

What is Happiness?


Happiness is sunshine in your home, surrounded by laughter and love – a gathering of people who make you feel loved.


Happiness is when your heart lifts.

Happiness is a memory of or the anticipation of something you’re looking forward to.

What is sadness?




Loss of a loved and important thing or person.

Sadness is when you know what’s coming or what’s happening then and there, and don’t like it. Like getting a spanking.

Lessons of 9 /11 – Not In My Name

We are now “the other” .

I was saying to my husband that in ten years time our children will be in college and we won’t have to worry about school districts and can get a large home, with a sprawling yard wherever we can afford one. He smirked. “Don’t worry. In ten years time, we’ll be living in concentration camps.” Scary, but it could very well be true. As a Muslim, I now have to think twice before shooting off a letter to an editor decrying one of Bush and Co.’s latest antics. I wouldn’t be surprised if I discovered Big brother was reading my emails, listening to my phone calls. Now when I watch movies like Vendetta or Even Batman Begins, I invariably see parallel’s between today’s America and the fiction unfolding across the screen. I’ve stopped giving to Muslim charities because of the consistency with which the government has been freezing their assets and calling those who’ve donated to them as people aiding and abetting terrorism. Never mind the fact that umpteen investigations have revealed no ties between charitable organizations in the US and terrorism.

But despite the labels, be it Islamic terrorists or the latest, Islamic fascists, I refuse to be cowed down as a representative of my faith. I intend to live my life, practicing the teachings of my faith, being my brother’s keeper. Undeterred, I continue with my volunteerism, my grass-roots activism to improve the community I live in, my role in my child’s PTA, all the while building friendships with Americans of all hue and shade.

I am a Muslim American and I want the same things for my children as any human being. We choose good neighborhoods to live in so that the kids have good role models and peers. We hope our kids grow confident by having them explore and experiment with different things be it food or music or places to visit. We contribute to their intelligence by reading to them, conversing and playing with them. We teach them to be loving and empathetic, by being that way with them and others around them. We have them mingle with a variety of people and cultures so that they grow comfortable interacting with others and have a place to practice the manners we teach them.

Embracing friends of another culture isn’t only about doing the social thing, it’s about learning to appreciate differences, it’s about opening your heart to aspects of life that are outside our original comfort zone. Post 9/11, for Muslims, these interactions have taken on even greater significance. We can’t let the fanatics speak to our neighbors and our communities for us, we must let our actions and our intentions speak for us. Only when others know who I am on the inside, will I earn for Muslims the trust that 9/11 has so eroded.

There is no denying that 9/ 11 has been the catalyst forcing America Muslims to get out of their little worlds and collaborate meaningfully with the rest of society. Hand-wringing is what we could have stopped at, or venting could have been the solution. But it’s putting your head where your heart is that makes for change. Now, when a Muslim volunteers in an organization outside the Muslim world, it’s putting a face to a Muslim sounding name. It reflects on all Muslims.

9/11 also became a call to America Muslims to take a look at things besides our bank balances. Traditionally, Muslims have chosen Medicine and Engineering, and more recently IT, as careers – more or less stable, lucrative career paths. It was time for us to join the ranks of teachers, journalists, counselors, political activists and writers. These are the people who define the manner in which America, and hence global society, thinks. It was time the moderates amongst Muslims joined the circles where we could influence the discourse. What’s more, we’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be a topic related to Muslim issues alone, for us to get involved.

Our choices were clear. The alternative was allowing the propagation of the stereotype of Muslims as backward, violent, trouble-makers – both past and present – brutes who’d forced the ‘sword of Islam’ into the lands they conquered. We could become pariahs or we could become ambassadors of our faith. Passivity had already cost the silent, peaceable majority dearly. Five years later, silence is still not an option.



It’s not often that I come to the computer with ideas as to what I want to write about. Rather, I sit at the keyboard and my fingers lead the way. This morning, however, as I settle down to write, it’s with the awareness that I have competition. Competition from the home-front. My mother who lives in the Middle East has been writing for a global e-newsletter, Charminar Connection, with a subscription list of a 1000 plus readers of Indian origin. Her essays are so good that several readers have emailed her and called her from Toronto, Saudi Arabia and Chicago to say she’s brought back memories of old times. My uncle wrote to her saying that he was having a bad day and reading her essay was therapeutic. So yes, I do have competition. Not surprisingly, I am glad for it.

My mother writes of her childhood, of her adolescence. Her essays show me a world that I have never known. They take me to a time where racing to pick raw mangoes the rains had felled was a childhood past time. She talks of times when extended families were so large, lived in such close proximity and were so close knit that one didn’t need to make friends outside it. Cousins provided ample companionship.

Mama sometimes uses Urdu words I don’t even understand. I haven’t a clue as to what they are because they refer to things that no longer exist in my world. And it sets me thinking as to how the nature of life, living and family has changed so completely. All in a matter of one generation. For me, the world she lived in as a girl, never existed.
We’ve always lived as a nuclear family, able to visit our grandparents in another state only during our vacations and as my mother points out, we don’t even know our first cousins too well. The way things stand today, not one of my siblings and I even live on the same continent. One generation. That’s all it took.

Mother’s essays take me to places and show me thoughts I wouldn’t know she had, had she not written them down. I wonder about the very nature of writing. What is it about a blank sheet of paper or a blank word document? Just as we are impatient to fill silences, are we also eager to fill in the empty spaces around us? Like empty spaces in our homes that we just have to fill with some knick-knack or object d’art? Or storage rooms that are choc-a-block brimming no matter whose house we’re talking about? I guess empty spaces, whether on paper or in our homes, allow us the privilege to express a part of ourselves and we are only too eager to do so.

I once wrote a poem called ‘Ask Me’ and it basically talked of how each one of us is filled with stories. Stories about ourselves, our feelings, our thoughts. Stories of who we are and how we become the people we are today. And it said that deep within us, we’re just yearning to tell our stories. To be asked about ourselves. To have an interested listener. Maybe that is why old people tell and re-tell their stories so often. Like writers, decorators, or painters in the midst of creating something, old people too are in a place where they can ‘be’, collecting their thoughts and rummaging through memories, versus hopping from task to task.

Maybe a generation later, my daughter won’t need to write down her thoughts or her stories. Maybe telepathy will be the way of the world and she’ll be able to transmit her thoughts just by eye contact or perhaps even by just thinking of the other person. Maybe she’ll be downloading her thoughts and it’ll manifest itself in changes around her without her actually lifting a finger to get things done. And perhaps she’ll be reading by osmosis; and eating only in supplement form. Far-fetched you think? Given all the changes that life has undergone since my mum was a girl, I don’t think so.

Reaching Out

Our mission:

We are coming together to find the most effective and efficient way to respond to the resettlement of refugees within the Glen Ellyn community. Our goal is to help families by providing emergency assistance, help families to move from newly arrived status to self-sufficiency, and develop a service providers’ network and listing. Throughout this process, we strive to support leadership development within the refugee community..

The ‘We’ refers to a committee, albeit a so-far nameless one, that’s come together and comprises both agencies and individuals who were already helping refugees in our town of Glen Ellyn. Many of the refugees have been plucked from the throes of violence in their home country’s.

What amazes me is not that there are volunteers getting together to help the less fortunate, but that there are so many of them dedicating countless, consistent hours to the cause. It gives me hope that there is still goodness in this world, especially when I consider how many people have been uprooted from their homes. According to recent estimates from the U.S. Committee for Refugees, there are 12 million refugees and asylum seekers throughout the world, and 21 million internally displaced persons in need of protection and assistance. In 2005, more than three million people became newly uprooted from their homes and/or countries. These numbers do not include the millions who are “internally displaced ( IDP’s)” Countries in which persecution, armed conflict, or widespread violence have internally displaced the largest numbers of civilians include Sudan which tops the list. Although IDPs share many characteristics with refugees, they are not protected by international refugee law because they remain inside their own countries.

The numbers are staggering. It hits you even harder when you think that there are human beings, with babies and children, hopes and dreams, fears and doubts behind those statistics. Homelessness, fear, hunger, poverty, wounds, pain, death for them aren’t things they read about it the papers. It is their life. That we are able to help the refugees in Glen Ellyn, I suppose, is our way of providing a drop of help in an ocean of trouble.

This larger, nameless committee has divided itself into sub-committees, each to plan, develop and work on an integral aspect of refugee assimilation. Trust Americans to be ever so organized. Two ladies and myself decided to work on transportation. Like Muscat, without transport one is stranded here. Be alien to the language and culture here, like the refugees are, and you’re even worse off.

The Transport Committee is now in the process of putting together a list of volunteers to drive the refugee families to and from Doctor appointments or groceries or driving tests or what have you. Approximately five volunteers will be assigned to each family, so no one person gets overburdened. Volunteers have the flexibility to commit to only to the number of hours they are comfortable with. They and the refugee family will set up a time and date that is mutually agreed upon for errands and such, preferably a week in advance at least. This is just one program that the Transportation Committee will oversee. We are still in the process of fleshing out all its components. Some of it will include Rules of the Road and How to Drive in Snow.

The committee is still "under construction" and we’re hoping to find others – at least three more – to spearhead it. There will be some meetings, but not more than once a month, to determine the shape and form that the committee will take. We will definitely have one refugee on it too so that we guide its work in the right direction vs. based on assumptions.

As part of the Transport Committee, we are also collecting car donations and cash donations for car repairs, car title changes, car insurance and driving lessons. Tax deduction receipts will be given for cash donations as well as car donations. Both can be made out to MSI ( Muslim Society Inc.), 1785 Bloomingdale Road Glendale Heights, 60139. As for the cars, we hope not to get something that is too much of a lemon and will last at least 2 more years. All donors have to, in writing, explain exactly when the car was last serviced, all the repairs made to it, when the battery and tires were replaced last, and what repairs still need to be made. We need to know what is wrong with the car so that we know if it's worth fixing or not.

This committee is a beginning but one which, for me, is grounded in two years of volunteering in various capacities with the refugees. By God’s grace, I’ve reached a stage where people who are interested in helping the refugees contact me to find out what they can do. Many hands make light work and I pray there is a ripple effect and many who pitch in.

Last week, a donated car needed repairs. The refugee man to whom it had been given, as a result, had no ride to and from work. I decided to take him back and forth that day. The only catch was that it meant I pick him from work at midnight, since he works the second shift. And I did. Later, I was talking about it with my mother and like I said to her, all I could think of as I dropped and picked him up was, how fortunate I was to be in my shoes and not his. How fortunate yet how often ungrateful for my warm car, gloved hands, snug jacket, being literate in English, roof over my head, food on the table, healthy children and my ability to lend a helping hand instead of being dependent on irregular hand-outs and struggling from day to day.

There is a saying of the Prophet Mohammed’s, Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him, that says, remember God in your good times and He will remember you in your bad times. That night, as I drove down empty roads, past snow piled on pavements, and blinking red signals, I couldn’t help but ask God to count my actions. To save me from the tests of harsher days, tests which He has promised will come everyone’s way.