Muslims in the Greater Chicago Area

A profile of Muslims in and around Chicago

by M. Amir Ali, Ph.D.

In 1996 the Greater Chicago area has over eighty Islamic organizations and most of them attached to an Islamic center or a mosque. The estimated population of Muslims in Cook and the collar counties is 350,000, almost 5% of the total population of the region. The Muslims have surpassed the population of Jews and many other ethnic groups.

The nationalities of Muslims, wherever they have come from, includes Indo-Pak-Bangladesh subcontinent, Arabic speaking countries including the Middle East and North Africa, the East European countries of Albania, Bosnia and surrounding states, Turkey, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to white and Hispanic American Muslims, Chicago has the largest concentration of African-American Muslims in the U.S. It is a diverse community speaking a variety of languages, representing a variety of complexions and races, yet they are one community. The sense that all Muslims are one community is embedded in the Qur’anic teachings which makes all Muslims one ethnic group, irrespective of their geographical origin, race and color.

The Muslim population of Greater Chicago is well educated and economically prosperous. A survey done a few years ago showed that the Indo-Pakistani Muslims, in particular, had perhaps the highest education level in the U.S. It was found that this community consisted of 16% medical doctors and 33% engineers, and overall 44% had doctorate degrees, 84% had at least bachelors degrees and only 2% had less than a high school education. The average income of the Indo-Pakistani community was more than twice the average income level of the U.S. population.

The contribution of the Muslim professionals is beyond their proportion in number. Two of the skyscrapers of Chicago, the John Hancock Center and the Sears Tower, were designed by a Muslim architect, Dr. Fazlur Rahman. There is hardly a hospital without a Muslim doctor on its staff. There is hardly an engineering or electronic equipment manufacturer without Muslim engineers. Muslims are involved in the design, production and distribution of all American products and services. There are many Muslim teachers in Chicago public schools and professors in the universities. Chicago would have an extreme shortage of taxis if the Muslims pull out of taxi driving. There are many engineers, even rare medical doctors who are driving taxis either because they are preparing for board examinations or they enjoy freedom and self-employment.

Muslims also have political muscle which was demonstrated when Harold Washington won as a Mayor of Chicago with the slim majority provided by the Muslim vote. Since the early eighties the Muslim population has increased and they are becoming registered voters in increasing proportion. Only thirty years ago the Chicago Muslim population was very small with only one Islamic center which had a small congregation.

In social life, Muslims have almost no alcohol problems and drug use is rare among the Muslim young. There is rare dating because most marriages are still arranged by elders of the family. There is rarely a problem of adultery or homosexuality and there are no children out of wedlock. In general, Muslim youth are good students in their schools and motivated to excel. The divorce rate is relatively low and single parents are few. It is prohibited to show bare bodies, even bare legs, or tight clothing which makes exhibitionism an un-Islamic trait. Muslim men and women dress fully and modestly. Crime of any kind by the Muslims is a rare occurrence. In fact, Islam is playing a great role in the American prison system in reforming the prisoners. The reversion to crime of those prisoners who accept Islam during their incarceration is much lower than those who do not and a majority becomes productive citizens when becoming free.

Muslims are very tolerant people. It is in their grain to let other people know about Islam but not to go too far to make a person feel coerced or pressured to convert to Islam. The proof is in the history. Muslims ruled Spain for almost eight centuries yet they remained a minority and paid its price. Muslim ruled India for almost nine centuries yet remained a minority. Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus, a Byzantine general, who issued a decree forever forbidding Jews from entering the city. When the Muslims entered Jerusalem, victoriously without any battle or bloodshed, they allowed Jews and all other people to enter and live happily. Ever since Jerusalem has remained a city open to the people of all religions and races until the State of Israel was established on Muslim-Palestinian land. Christian churches, Jewish synagogues or Hindu temples were never taken by force to convert them to mosques except under proper arrangements and at an agreed upon price with the owners or responsible caretakers. Muslims have always lived with minorities or majorities of other religions except, occasionally, when rotten apples among Muslims were in power for short periods of time. It is obvious that many Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, Hindu temples and places of worship of other religions are in existence all over the Muslim lands from the ancient times. In fact, whenever Jews were slaughtered in European countries they found a safe refuge in the Muslim lands of North Africa, Turkey and East Europe. In North America and Europe Muslims have no friction with Jews or Christians. Even now, Christians and Jews are living happily together in all Muslim lands except the lands under the control of Israel. Who should be blamed for troubles in lands under the control of Israel? Why should weaker people risk their lives when they are living happily as in Skokie, Illinois? Muslims have been peaceful people throughout the history.

It is worthwhile to look closely at the Muslim community of America because it has a potential of becoming a model community for all Americans.

October 29, 1996