Muslim-cultural Students Association hosted two panelists at “Chicago Muslims in Your Backyard” in Annenberg on Monday evening. The panel, which kicked off McSA’s Discover Islam Week, featured Alia Bilal and Lubna Ali, two Muslim women working to solve social issues in the Evanston and Chicago area.
According to McSA Co-President Ala Salameh, these women “show the good that Muslims are doing” in the Chicagoland area.
“Islam is being manifested into our community in a way that is inherent in American culture,” Salameh, a Weinberg senior, said.
Both Bilal and Ali spoke about how their faith affects their careers. Bilal, the executive associate for the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, attended an Islamic school from ages 3 to 18. Her school sponsored charities that shipped items overseas to people in need, but Bilal found that several people in her own community needed the items as well.
“I finally realized that there are people in my backyard who could really use that coat,” Bilal said. “There are people in my backyard that could really use that can of soup that I know are struggling.”
After this realization, Bilal discovered IMAN’s philanthropic ventures and began working there after graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Specifically, Bilal organizes “Takin’ It to the Streets,” an artistic expression festival to be held this June for the first time in three years.
“It’s a really huge and awesome display of the power that communities have to realize a different outcome and a different vision,” Bilal said.
Meanwhile, Ali works for the Evanston Police Department as a youth advocate for people who commit minor offenses.
“We focus on family counseling,” Ali said. “You can’t just talk to the youth and really make a change. There’s so much other stuff in the community.”
Although the nature of her work is not inherently Muslim, Ali drew many connections to her Islamic upbringing and decision to become a therapist. Part of this comes from how stigmatized therapy is in Islamic culture, according to Ali.
“In the Muslim community, I feel like we don’t always learn how to communicate or process feelings,” Ali said. “There can be so many misunderstandings, but they don’t have to be there.”
Both women feel that Islam heavily impacted their career choices based on the lessons they learned as children.
“I always wanted to choose a career that would be in line with my faith, that would help actualize the beliefs that I have,” Bilal said.
Weinberg sophomore Sara Fadlalla said she was impressed by how well the panelists represented the Islamic culture.
“They really opened my eyes to what they did as Muslims,” Fadlalla said. “I felt like the character they use in their work is something that is inherent in Islam.”