Every early Friday afternoon thousands of people gather at Elston Avenue for the call to prayer to fill the air. The particular section of North Elston is located in the 40th District of the Illinois General Assembly. It is one of the most diverse locations regarding ethnicity and is the home to 3 mosques.
Saif Mazhar was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago and works in Elston at the MCC aka, Muslim Community Centre. Sadly, he doesn't always feel accepted. He told us how although he's not an immigrant, people view him differently to others. He explains how he keeps his head down when visiting public places such as shopping centres or restaurants. He worries that people see him as a terrorist.
Unfortunately, this is a familiar situation for many. Imam Kamal Mufti of the Islamic Foundation of Peria has witnessed the worsening situation. He explains how comments such as 'All Muslims are terrorist' and 'Muslims like to celebrate the 9/11' are being increasingly used. Even more shocking is the fact that some of these statements are even being exchanged between young children at school. Some say that it is worse than bullying – it creates damage at a higher psychological level.
According to Mufti, the problem of 'Islamophobia' is an increasing issue. He argues that the U.S presidential campaign is to blame. Mutfi explains that numbers, statistics and polls tell us that Islamophobia peaks around election time, not around the date of a terrorist attack. The current election season has been full of controversial comments and jibes aimed at Muslims. Donald Trump (Republican front-runner) has even proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States and even went as far to say that he wants to close some of the U.S mosques.
Instead of sitting back and being quiet, Mufti wanted to do something about the unfair and damaging comments. So, in March, he held an event called "Know Islam, Know Peace". The interfaith was an event for everyone to attend. Many different speakers from different faiths and locations were invited to speak.
Many of the guest speakers covered different themes including peace, respect and tolerance. Jehan Gordon-Booth, an Illinois State Representative, told guests the story of how her Christian mother decided to bless her with a Muslim name out of respect for Jehan Sadat who was the wife of slain Egyptian President Anwar Sedat. Her story is a beautiful example of how we don't need to compromise our faith to show love and respect for others.
The event was hugely popular attracting hundreds of attendees, mainly non-Muslims. Due to a large number of people, they even organised a massive streaming service for people to view from outside.
The event was a perfect example of how people from all different backgrounds can gather together to in a mosque, merely enjoying each others company and socialising. Given the vast success of the event, it is likely that future ones will be held in a desperate attempt to build bridges in the community.