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August 20, 2005

Why Chicago is the SA Node of the American Muslim Community, Part II


kr’s note: My apologies for not having this finished by Friday morning as I had planned, especially to Mawlana Nazim as I failed to provide him with reading material during his post-Jumu’ah biryani lunch. As for those who may say this is too long… I can only say that those who care to read it will, and those who don’t, won’t.


Summary of Part I (for all you goldfish):

·        Islam was meant to take root and come alive in cities. Cities in classical Islamic history were madinahs where the deen firmly established itself.

·        Cities provided individuals with the psychological and spiritual space to grow and flourish, thus actualizing the innate potential for greatness that is lurking within all humans

·        In return, individuals made their cities famous through their achievements

·        American Muslims too are congregated in cities; American cities have the potential (and some of the infrastructure) to provide American Muslims with this space to maximize their potential

·        If American Muslims are the heart of the nation, a salient hadith to dwell on is the following: “..Indeed in the body there is a lump of flesh. If it is sound, the entire body is sound; if it is corrupted, the entire body is corrupted. Indeed, it is the heart.” In other words, if we as a community are not sound, the entire American nation (and even the world) will not be sound.

·        Amongst the American Muslim cities, Chicago is the SA node (ie, the pace setter) for the rest of the American Muslims due to a variety of reasons. Chicago Muslims must recognize this and face up to the responsibilities and challenges that face them individually and communally.



“Indeed there was for (the people) of Saba a sign in their abode: two gardens on the right and left. (So) eat of the provision of your Lord and give thanks to Him; a goodly city and a Forgiving Lord. But they turned aside, so We sent against them a flood from the dams, and We replaced their two gardens with two gardens bearing bitter fruit, the tamarisk, and a few lote-trees. That was Our recompense because of their ingratitude; and never do We give such requital except to the ungrateful rejecters.” (34:15-17)


The people of Saba were given such provision from God with the implicit understanding that such sustenance required a communal display of gratitude. Allah continues by saying that this was a goodly city that was further favored by His willingness to forgive. However, the people of Saba failed to show gratitude and because of this were given a chastisement from their Lord. Comparing this to the previous descriptions of viable cities—Muslim cities whose citizens showed thankfulness by creating that aforementioned environment—the stage is set for one to understand the differences between a goodly city and its opposite. Simply put, the goodly city is one whose denizens embody gratitude to Allah in various ways.


It goes without saying that American Muslims are living in a complete state of blessing that requires a proportionate amount of gratitude to the One who provided us with all this. As for Chicago Muslims, we must recognize that we’ve been blessed more than other cities, and because of that, it requires a greater amount of reciprocated gratitude from our part. While numerous reasons set us apart from other cities, some of the more salient features are as follows. Note that while each reason may be argued that another city embodies a given point to a greater degree, I contend that the sum of these reasons (and others) gives Chicago the virtue of being the SA node.


·        Chicago can be considered as the geographical center of the nation. It comes as no surprise that the ISNA convention is routinely held in Chicago (more on the convention in another post) as it represents a focal point for the American Muslim community. It is also a global city that doesn’t have the baggage of New York or Los Angeles; this global-ness makes it not only the center of the nation, but also gives the city ready access to the rest of the world.

·        Surveys indicate that there are about 300-400,000 Muslims in the Chicagoland area, giving the Chicago Muslims a critical mass—fractionally—that is not found in other cities. This critical mass means that there enough Muslim in Chicago to enact change provided the prerequisites are met.

·        By virtue of being in the Midwest, Chicago is still strongly influenced by Midwest American values. Compared to the rest of the nation, these values are still relatively conservative (in terms of morality and such) and thus provide American Muslims with extant conditions to develop and flourish.

·        As compared to other cities, Chicago is relatively traditional and rooted in tradition. In my brief travels outside of Chicago, I haven’t seen this conservative attitude amongst other American Muslim communities, for example, on issues such as zabihah meat, gender relations, social events, etc.—in most cities, communal stances on such topics is indifference, at best. Overall, our fiqh has remained very traditional and authentic as compared to other cities, but it also has the strength of being applicable to the modern experience.

·        Chicago Muslims are blessed to have intelligent and accomplished scholarships within our fair city. It goes beyond IIE, the Madrasa Program, Darul Qasim, and the Nawawi Foundation–in which other city can one find seven muftis? While the west coast (by virtue of Zaytuna) and other places also have amazing scholarship, overall, Chicago scholarship has accomplished some truly amazing things. Let me be clear here: this point, specifically, is not to engage in a childish debate of “nah nah nah boo boo, my shaykh is better than your shaykh”… rather, the point here is that Chicago must be commended for harboring scholars (whose opinions span the entire gamut of acceptable fiqh and still remaining traditional…) and providing them with opportunities to effect change in their community.

·        On the topic of scholarship, Chicago also must be lauded for building institutions (such as IIE) that are educating American-born Muslims into becoming huffaz of the Qur’an, speakers, and even training them to don the mantle of scholarship themselves. In other words, yes, we do have Sunday Schools, but we’ve also been able to take it to the next level. Per capita, I don’t believe there is any other city that has this many huffaz, this many masjids, and this many full-time Islamic schools. The point here is that Chicago Muslims have already begun the task of producing educated and qualified American Muslims to lead the community in the years to come. Especially amongst the first-born generation, the potential (by virtue of their education and God-given talents) is truly profound… I won’t comment further on this point.

·        While there is much work to be done on this point (see below), the quantity and quality of institutions that this community has built is noteworthy. From the full-time schools to social activist groups and such, Chicago is home to many institutions that are building blocks to create that aforementioned “space”. Chicago Muslims—particularly the first-generation—must make use of these if we wish to see a brighter future.

·        The community itself, like other Muslim communities, is diverse—yet, the Chicago Muslims are blessed in that the critical mass of Muslims from each ethnic group is also significant. In other words, we’re not just limited to Indo-Pak or Arab Muslims; we have a noteworthy amount of African-American, Latino, Bosnian, Malaysian, etc. Muslims as well.

·        Finally, the most important reason (and this was mentioned by some comments in part I) is that other communities already look up to Chicago. Various cities throughout America look to Chicago as the paradigm to which they hope to model their own cities after.


Where do we go from here? I believe that for any noteworthy success to occur, the following areas must be addressed by the Chicago Muslims:


·        The first is that of individual reform and while this mantra has been chanted numerous times in the past, it’s a useful starting point to deal with the larger challenges that loom in the background. The powerful verse of the Qur’an—“Indeed God does not change the condition of a people until they (begin to) change their own selves”—stands out as the foremost thematic verse here. Another noteworthy lesson is found in a fascinating hadith of the Prophet (salallahu `alayhi wa sallam) wherein he said, “It is not befitting for a man to enjoin good and forbid evil until he has three noteworthy attributes: kindness in what he enjoins and forbids;  knowledge in what he enjoins and forbids; justice in what he enjoins and forbids.” Given the modern situation, more than ever it is vital for individuals to imbue themselves with these Prophetic attributes if we wish to see and serious and lasting progress.

·        On a communal level, it requires for Chicago Muslims to set the pace for the rest of the nation by adopting exemplary communal policies and social philosophies. In other words, there are a lot of flaws with the American Muslim community—mainly due to a lack of common understanding; this can be remedied if communities can synchronize themselves on similar stances on given issues. For example, the wastefulness that is seen with weddings across Muslim America is reaching infamously legendary proportions. It seems that people simply cannot get married these days without six or seven different functions: rasams, dholkis, mehendis, haldis (hey, why not just have adrak(ginger) and lassan (garlic) as well?), etc. Now, I understand that (mashallah) there are people financially capable of funding such functions; the problem is that when those who are less well-off see this trend, they then get the erroneous notion that they too must follow suit. It’s perhaps reflective of this problem to know that people actually take out second mortgages and immerse themselves in loans (with interest, of course) just to pay for a few days’ of entertainment. Imagine if a portion of the money set aside to pay for such madness is used to finance the marriages of orphans/needy people overseas—it costs approximately $350 (as per one of the IMRC administrative members I spoke with yesterday after Jumu’ah) to fund a decent wedding for poor people in India. How much more would the du’as of those poor people benefit the newly married couple as compared to some needless bells and whistles that are funded for here? On issues such as this, the situation requires that Chicago Muslims rise up and end this madness by adopting more beneficial communal policies on such matters—not only to influence other cities, but to end the collective insanity on such issues before it becomes too late.

·        Finally, while Chicago Muslims have started the task of building institutions, there is much to work to be done to bolster existing ones and to create new ones. Institutions are vital as they infuse deen into the madinah. In other words, they allow for people to be “Muslims” even if they’re not at the masjid. It’s not a big task to feel spiritual and content when one is inside the masjid; the challenge is whether or not a Muslim can feel that same spiritual high outside the masjid as well. In a sense then, this was the real power of the Muslim city: through its institutions, it allowed Muslims to be Muslims no matter what they were doing. Chicago has reached a point now wherein we (alhamdulillah) have enough masjids—leave alone the fact that they’re empty except on Fridays. Chicago Muslims, however, must take the next step and build practical institutions such as schools, think tanks, banquet halls, athletic centers, research centers, community service centers, and museums. I’ve alluded to some of this in a previous post. The point here is that these sorts of institutions will allow for that “space” for individuals to thrive and achieve their potentials. Individuals do not thrive in vacuums, and given that we live in a time that calls for heroes to deal with the challenges that face us, we must give them the training they need. We need the American Ghazalis to rise up—to do so requires building for them the Nizamiyyahs they will need to achieve this.


In the end then, we must return to the beginning and recognize the power of cities in classical Islam and seek to emulate that same model in our own modern communities. Our cities now have the potential to be like the cities of the Islamicate lands provided that we choose to walk the necessary path. Like Saba, our cities have been blessed by God with countless blessings in the form of both resources and human potential; the onus then lies on us to show thanks collectively by using these blessings in acts of gratitude—our cities are all goodly cities, watched over by a forgiving Lord. While other American Muslim cities will have their role to play in the near future, ultimately I believe that the greatest burden—and God does not make a soul bear a burden that it cannot bear—lies on the aptly-named city of broad shoulders and its Muslim community to be the metaphorical SA node for everyone else. While this is certainly a great honor for the Chicago Muslims, lest we strain our collective arms trying to pat ourselves on the back, let us understand that there is much work to be done, especially in some of the areas highlighted above.


In short, history will bear witness whether or not we became sound, individually and collectively. Chicago itself yearns for its citizens to achieve greatness, such that the agnomen “al-Shikâghawî” becomes as famous as the titles of spiritual giants of the past. For this to happen, it requires a serious internalization by Chicago Muslims of their role as the vanguard of the American Muslim community that stands at the shores of destiny. It requires for them to ask themselves if they are willing to be that SA node for everyone else.




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  1. Blogger is for diatribes.:)

  2. Anonymous permalink

    2 ebrobs to keep you habby.
    go bears. go chad. hanging chad.. cuz he hangs onto the ball too much… lol get it!

  3. Anonymous permalink

    2 ebrobs to keep you habby.
    go bears. go chad. hanging chad.. cuz he hangs onto the ball too much… lol get it!

  4. GASP! Health Information Managers are more than just cart-pushers and file-getters! We’re the ones who help apply HIPAA and other such security measurements, comply with regulations from both the state and the Feds and keep things running smoothly so you wanna-be doctors can HAVE and ego to boost, HA! If we weren’t there you’d never get paid (at least not what you’d deserve). there I said that and I went hard feelings though…I know it’s half-crap field 😉 haha

  5. Excellent post KamKam…

  6. this post rocks. mashallah.
    one point that seems to have been mentioned in essence in your post, but not explicitly, is the fact that this is also a city with some of the most active dawah groups (especially IMAN!!), student orgs (MSAs), and youth support systems in the country alhamdulillah. this is a city that is blessed with a great number of converts, due to the efforts of dedicated, sincere individuals.
    as far as youth go, i think this is one area that is still growing however, considering that many of the institutions in the country set up for youth work are still in the “initial response” stages to the situation Muslim youth face here. but I think when it comes to broad-based activism overall – whether in the ghetto, in the MSA’s or with the mass youth, despite all the work that remains to be done – chicago rocks!!!
    as you said before, I think one of the main pluses that allow for this, is the fact that most of the orgs are relatively well-balanced within acceptable islamic limits. one thing that makes me extremely proud of Chicago is that there is little to no extremism within our community here, ideologically, methodologically, or otherwise.
    Though many may disagree with my following statement, this city is blessed with diversity, even within the Muslim groups, most of whom stress on protecting the traditions of Islam, though many may differ on the methods. Chicago’s Muslims have:
    1. people who place an emphasis on Muslims gaining a stronger understanding of the Quran and Sunnah by being a bit more familiar with their texts2..people who place an emphasis on trusting and obeying our blessed scholars3. people calling to the work of Dawah4. people calling to the work of outreach5. people calling to spirituality, 6. people calling to Jama’ah-oriented work, 7. people calling to education and knowledge 8. People calling to involvement in the politcal process and civil rights efforts9. A few who understand in a scholarly light the importance of all these, and know that all have their place within the community.
    Some people may assign titles or names to these groups – but I prefer to call them by their functions, rather than names that may serve to cause divisions and stereotype.
    No one group or single line of though holds sway over all Chicago’s muslim community. As long as we remain united on the limits and the fundamentals (regardless of differences on what is in between) and refrain from excommunication of our brothers and sisters who hold different opinions while still holding to the traditional principles concerning the Quran and Sunnah –  this can provide for an amazingly productive discussion within the growing community, drawing from all of Islam’s authentic, scholarly traditions to provide long-term solutions and ideas for the Chicagoan-sub-Ummah inshallah.
    This city, in my view, represents more or less a cross-section of the entire Ummah. We have just about everyone. Perhaps solutions that are found here, can be a small part at least, of solutions that can be applied everywhere?
    my two cents. wa salaam

  7. *in a fobish voice* Shecago is the good one…
    nice post..can’t believe you didn’t mention that Chicago has the best Islamic School in North America a.k.a. CPSA where you spent two years of your life there…from their website:
    CPSA is known for placing nearly all of their students in competitive four-year colleges and universities. Our students have a higher SAT and ACT average than all private schools in the area and all public schools in the state of Illinois. CPSA students have earned admission into prestigious universities such as Harvard, Yale, Duke, Princeton, University of Chicago, Stanford, MIT, and Northwestern University. Our students were also admitted into selective guaranteed placement medical school programs. CPSA’s rigorous curriculum and Advanced Placement program allows students to graduate with an average of 6.5 college credit hours.
    I was about to rip on the IFS Islamic School because on the IFS website, they had achievements put up there for students who graduated like over three years ago..and they were making it look like as if it is their previous year’s achievements…nothing but deception….but when I checked the website…it’s under construction….so don’t wanna hate on them…
    kr…why the hate bro?…what made you switch to the dark evil side?  i had great expectations bro…you let me down…but i feel good now…after my last comment….

  8. Asalamu alaikum akhi,
    It was long but i read it all. Alhamdulilah you have definitely put your time and effort into it. Jazakallah khair for that. You made some really good observations and points on Chicago. I learned that Chi-town has alot of Islamic culture which i didnt know b4. And I see your goal. All I gotta say is why you hatin on other cities? Nah just jk, LOL. NYC meets almost all the things Chicago meets except for the conservative moral vaues i guess, LOL. I still dont know what moral values the people in NYC hold. Anyway, my  2 cents is that, no matter which place it is or should be, the muslims need to collectively set examples for the rest of humanity. To show them that we are peaceful people who want humanity to succeed and have justice. BTW i responded to your great comments on my comments section. take care

  9. im a bit disappointed that you didn’t mention what islam has historically meant to chicago and how deeply-rooted muslims and their movements (particularly political but also social and cultural) have been here. as an example, consider historic Bronzeville on the southside of Chicago. this Black Metropolis is home to a rich history of Muslim art.  it has had a profound influence on a broader artistic and cultural movement wherein islam has played the role of identity-shaper and voice-carrier for a broad-based black community (artistically through hip-hop music, for instance). Chicago has also been home to several strong political and civil movements, many of which achieved success through their foundation and faith in islam. this historical base has carried through to today, alhamdulillah, and its strength is readily visible in the city’s various hidden treasures, like the Mosque of Umar. as such, Chi is a dynamic mini model of this nation, so to understand how to address the future of Islam in America, we have to look to Islam’s history and legacy in this country, and Chi should be the first place we look.sorry if this was incoherent or not as well-substantiated as i woulda liked. im half asleep and half pissed at Chad.-IJB

  10. huh?
    I dunno, I went to chicago a while back, but I don’t live there to know enough to negate or assert your claims.  Definitely sounds promising though.  Hmm… I think we as muslims need to learn to funnel our wealth and resources more effectively, that could lead to greater strides than we can imagine.  I like your idea about the extravagant weddings… but I think you could also use some of that surplus to buy someone in afghanistan a couple of goats, or someone in niger a sewing machine….

  11. If Chicago is the SA node, does that make New York the Bundle of His?

  12. Although, I would like to toot the horn of Chicago, I can’t. Although a lot of the stuff which you mentioned about Chicago may be true and can be looked at in the light of diversity, it can also be looked at in another light as well. Yes, we have a very conservative community, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing. On the one hand, it keeps some people close to the deen. On the other, it takes average Muslims and makes practicing the Deen extremely difficult.Yes, we do have a number of institutions that are doing amazing amounts of work, but to say that these organizations are on the same page or even to say that they have a fundamental respect for each other isn’t a fair statement. Maybe the leaders of the groups have a respect for each other, but the participants of the groups don’t get along in the slightest, often sterotypically dubbed as “followers of so and so.” That needs to go.And yes, we have a number of institutions and masajid, but we are most definitely lacking in the most fundamental thing that a community needs to survive, leaders. We have only a handful of Imams in the community who do more than just lead the 5 daily prayers. There’s a couple in the arab communities and some in the African American communities, but relatively none in the indo pak community. We have people that lead the prayers, but not people that are the leaders of the community that bring the community together. Chicago isn’t all hunky dory. We have some serious issues, and in a lot of respects, I believe that other communities are completely rocking us in terms of their community building. Yes, people are going to learn from us and look up to us. But that does not mean that we cannot learn from other cities and look up to them.

  13. hm, i dunno, kazim.. i feel like the point isnt that we cant learn from other cities or cant improve, but that, as the SA node, Chi is the ideal place to birth impulses that effect substantial, positive community-level or national change in political, cultural, or religious arenas. It isn’t the apogee of all things good, nor the embodiment of efficacy in every form, but it certainly has the potential to be the optimal starting point to get a-moving…-IJB

  14. I don’t see Chicago being the SA node at all, I think we’re just like any other Node in the system, feeding off of other people and giving back to them. We’re definitely not the ones who are bringing in the new ideas and implementing them before anyone else.

  15. Actually, I would have to agree with kazim. I think we are a pretty big player, and that we have the potential to be a powerhouse and develop great solutions, as I and others stated before – but I don’t think we neccessarily have the upper hand on anyone. I think Southern California, Michigan, and New York are also top contenders when it comes to real community building and broad-based, meaningful activism.
    The enormous potential of Chicago is what I really think is unique about us, along with a number of the things kr stated.
    I think as diverse as we are, we are rather scattered – into all the groups I myself had listed above. If those groups were to come together, at least on a few issues, I think THAT would forge an amazing beginning for real, substantial work and development.

  16. I think Chicago has made the most progress out of all the big cities. It’s not even about the Muslim population, because I’m sure New York could match that. More importantly, it’s the community that you guys have developed. A strong sense of family ties, a lucrative market, and of course plenty of masajids. Atleast that’s what I’ve heard…
    New York isn’t too far behind though. MSA East Zone was hosted here and it went relatively well. I believe we have the man power, the brains, all we need is the unity. Some sort of leadership to bring all the organzations together. For example, there are charities but what’s the point if they all support the same cause? Alhmdullilah, I pray our situation, wherever we are, only gets better. 

  17. oooh, controversy, me likey… first, responding to everyone else:
    bhaijan: go write another scandalous poem or something…
    hish: hanging chad… God, he sucks… im sorry, he just does… i say throw orton to the flame and let him learn… he’s gonna take a few knocks but he throws a beautiful ball… that spiral is hot.
    kabri: HIPAA is the worst thing ever conceived. whoever thought of it ought to be exiled to antarctica… face it, all you guys do is pull charts =).
    rooji: thanks, your farid-al-din attar one was off the charts as well.
    abdul: thanks for adding some of those points. i hadnt thought of some of them; others i didnt put in to save space (gasp). i think i agree with most of what you said, but there is extremism (towards one end or the other) in some groups that is brewing at the very least, and i think it’s manifest in some areas as well. and you’ve hit the point of this post dead-on: the problems that plague muslims in america are common to all cities; yet, if solutions can be found in chicago, it will determine whether or not the problems will be resolved elsewhere.
    mawlana nazim (db): the post was getting long as it is, and unlike you (who actually reads my rantings), others dont have the patience to read through it, so i had to chop out some bits before posting this. suffice it to say that CPSA is only a building block; that institution itself has a long ways to go (both reform wise and looking to the future wise). as for IFS… no comment. finally, you sold out man, im only doing this for your own good… you cant go around and tell people they have good xangas when we both know most xangas suck… of course, mine is a notable exception =).
    r_islam: sorry bro, didn’t mean to “rip” on other cities… as i said in the first part, all cities have their roles to play (such as the ones you mentioned in the comments)… it’s just that i feel the onus is greater on the city of chicago to get its act together if we’re to succeed as an American Muslim community.
    servantofallah: i think my contention that we need to build viable institutions implies some of this intelligent spending (funnelling wealth and all that) that you referred to… at least that’s what i intended. as for what to do with “surplus” money, i agree, there’s a million things and projects that we can understake with this money… i merely raised the idea of funding overseas weddings since i had just finished talking about the wastefulness of weddings here… as if to say that if people have “x” dollars earmarked for a wedding, spend a portion of that here and the other portion for weddings overseas cause those people’s du’as are gonna benefit the couple a LOT more than some horse carriage entrance or something like that.
    asad: new york’s more like the AV node i think… the knicks still suck though.
    ill respond to kaz/isra in another comment since that thread is a lot more interesting.

  18. I like the train of thought here: how you started off by mentioning the deen/madinah, the shores of destiny, then giving the examples of the goodly city and the people of Saba, and relating it all together at the end. The part about al-Shikaghawi was also excellent.
    But I think Kazim has a point: can we ever bring the conservatives and liberals together to adopt these “communal philosophies” you talked about? I’d like to hear your (or anyone’s) ideas on this point
    Overall though, great stuff, even if it did take me 20 minutes to read 😛

  19. interesting points made by all.  i feel like my city’s a baby compared to Chicago and all the others mentioned above.  some would be surprised to know that even in Birmingham, AL (a tiny town comparitively) probably has the same issues/problems/differences that the Chicago community has.  the size of a city makes no difference sometimes.
    and i like your comments on weddings.  i wish more people thought like that.  people spend more time planning their weddings than they do their marriages.

  20. Anonymous permalink

    It was kind of hard for me to figure out where you were going exactly in your first post. but, this second post has a very strong basis to it. I feel as though you’ve raised many key issues/goals/solutions. On this point:”It goes beyond IIE, the Madrasa Program, Darul Qasim, and the Nawawi Foundation–in which other city can one find seven muftis? I couldnt have said it any other way. moving forward, I love the fact that we DO have so many organizations that are established in the chicago area. NOT ONLY do these organizations/institutions exist in chicago, they are ACTIVE. just because certain organizations are headquartered in a given city doesnt mean that they’re the most active in that city. I LOVE IT!A VERY QUICK EXAMPLE: ISNA is based in indiana. HAHAHAHAHA!! there’s more potential issue that I dont know if you mentioned: integration between certain organizations/institutions.I wont write an essay comment on this issue but it should be pointed out(if you havent already).SOLID EXAMPLE: you’ll never find a joint program by nawawi foundation and madrasa program.

  21. Anonymous permalink

    asalaamu alaykum wrwb,
    belated props on the thoroughness.

  22. good khutbah today..mashAllah.

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