From the mosque to the march
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
By Gregg Sherrard Blesch
Guadalupe Govea spoke Spanish as she greeted a friend Monday in the parking lot of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview.
Govea, 27, was dressed in hijab like the rest of the women boarding buses to join a largely Latino crowd in Chicago calling for changes in the country’s immigration laws.
Govea’s family is Mexican, and she has converted to Islam.
“I’m Mexican, too,” Govea thought when she independently joined a similar rally in March and noticed puzzled looks from the throngs of Latinos.
This time, though, she was joined by many more Muslims, including a few hundred from the Bridgeview mosque, organized by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.
The mosque’s imam, Sheik Jamal Said, had called repeatedly for the worshippers to show their support for the cause.
Mahamadou Drame, of Orland Park, had gotten the day off from his job at the International House of Pancakes.
“They asked me why, and I said, ‘The imam decreed,’ Drame said. His boss, likewise a Muslim, would be joining the rally later himself.
Drame, a very tall immigrant from Mali, was dressed in black slacks, crisp white shirt and white Islamic prayer cap.
Throughout the day, he cheerfully distributed a thick stack of red and white signs that would make the outnumbered group’s solidarity visible: “Muslims for American Dream” on one side and “Keep Families United” on the reverse.
The Latino population in the Chicago area — more than a quarter of the city’s residents — far surpasses the number from Muslim countries.
But the southwest suburbs are home to a large and growing Muslim community, now numbering from 40,000 to 50,000, according to Mosque Foundation president Dr. Mohammed Sahloul.
Many among that number since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have struggled to obtain and renew visas to stay in the country or bring family members. They wait for years, as common names — such as Mohammed Atta, he suggested — are checked against watch lists.
The men and women were joined by dozens of teenagers from the mosque-affiliated Aqsa and Universal schools, as well as students from Sandburg, Richards, Oak Lawn and Shepard high schools.
In the back of one of four school buses filled at the mosque, 19-year-old Abed Abdelqader pulled on a T-shirt printed for the event in Spanish: “Todos somos immigrantes. Todos somos Americanos”. (We’re all immigrants. We’re all Americans.).
The Mosque Foundation group arrived at the southern end of Grant Park, by the Field Museum, just as the first marchers arrived from a crowd that would take more than three hours to snake through downtown from Union Park.
Ilkwanori, a Korea drumming crew, beat a rhythm and danced where the Islamic group gathered, joining the rest of the crowd chanting, “Si, se puede” the Spanish rallying cry (“Yes, we can”) of the United Farmworkers Union.
Nearby, the SouthWest Organizing Project gathered later with hundreds bused from six Catholic churches on the Southwest Side.
“It’s very beautiful when people from different races come together,” said Leonor Garcia, 66, of St. Gall Church in Chicago’s Gage Park community. “In the end we’re all children of the same God, and we’re all fighting for the same cause.”
In the afternoon, the Bridgeview mosque’s imam appeared on stage with Cardinal Francis George and religious leaders of other faiths.
George, spiritual leader to the overwhelmingly Catholic crowd, delivered a message of respect toward immigrants.
“We should — we will — find ways to welcome them, legally,” he said.
Then Jamal prayed, “Oh Lord, do not allow the pursuit of political gain to overcome the pursuit of justice,” and an interpreter translated his words into Spanish.
Gregg Sherrard Blesch may be reached at email@example.com or (708) 633-5962.