Muslims rally at Statehouse

Andy Brownfield

More than 1,200 Illinois Muslims rallied at the Illinois Capitol on Wednesday, advocating legislative reforms such as teaching Arabic in public schools.

"We are currently witnessing a time in our country's history where the ugly face of bigotry is sweeping across the nation," spokeswoman Janaan Hashim said.

"The issues we raise today focus not for a better Muslim community, but for a better Illinois."

The coalition of groups that participated in the third annual Illinois Muslim Action day included The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, the United African Organization, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the Muslim Bar Association.

The groups urged Gov. Pat Quinn to make public education reform a priority, specifically the teaching of Arabic and other strategic languages, including both Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Urdu (a language associated with Muslims in India and Pakistan).

Foreign language skill is necessary to compete in a global market, Illinois Chamber of Commerce president Doug Whitley said.

"It is imperative Illinois school districts teach foreign languages in order for our state to be competitive in the emerging international marketplace," Whitley said.

But others wondered how the state would pay for the additional courses.

"I'm trying to figure out where we'd get the money," said Rep. Wayne Rosenthal, R-Morrisonville.

Members also advocated for an Illinois Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

"High school students who are brought here as children grow up with American values alongside your children, but are constantly pushed off to the fringe of society," said Alaa' Mukahhal, 24, an undocumented immigrant from Kuwait.

Andy Brownfield can be reached at (217) 782-3095.