Mir Hashmi wants to give children attending Illinois public schools the option of learning the Arabic language to better understand the Muslim community around them.
Arabic is the unifying language of people belonging to the Islamic faith, said the Des Plaines resident this morning before embarking on a journey to Springfield for the second Muslim Action Day.
About 1,200 Muslims from Chicago and area suburbs are expected to converge on the state capital today (Thursday) to demonstrate their civic involvement and lobby for issues relevant to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Among their key messages is a call to include strategic languages, such as Arabic, Hindi and Urdu, into public school curriculums. They also are pushing for funding to provide equal access to health care and healthy foods for poor families, foreclosure mediation, and community-based English and citizenship classes for immigrants.
Hashmi says the growing Muslim population in America indicates a need to teach Arabic, and says it would be no different from teaching Spanish and French.
"Arabic is an international language," he said. "I want people to know that there is another language in Islam."
Busloads of Muslims left suburban mosques in Des Plaines, Rolling Meadows and elsewhere, around 7 a.m.
The rally is organized by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Chicago.
Last year, the groups were unable to meet in person with legislators who were in the middle of a voting session, and instead delivered their message to aides.
The call to introduce Arabic in schools as a way to bridge the gap between the Muslim community and other groups was made there for the first time.
It resulted in legislation that is still making its way through the process, said Mumtaz Ahmed Khan of Wheeling, a board member of the Islamic Community Center of Des Plaines.
Khan said Illinois is underrepresented when it comes to foreign language programs in schools.
"It should be offered for everybody, whoever is interested," said Khan.
Khan also wants to see more funding for community-based immigrant integration services. The Des Plaines Islamic center currently offers neither English language nor citizenship classes, but that is something Khan hopes to change.
"The goal is to provide English classes where community members congregate," he said referring to mosques and community centers.
"Mosques would be the ideal location for the Muslim community to learn about citizenship. These classes should be provided in as much places as we can so that it would help our community."