Elected officials, business owners, professors and religious leaders came together in Mount Prospect for a Ramadan "Friendship Dinner" Monday night.
Held at the Turkish American Society of Chicago, 501 Midway Dr., the dinner featured common Turkish dishes, and guests came from "all walks of life," said Bilal Eksili, vice president of the Turkish American Federation of Midwest.
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This was the federation's and the Turkish Chamber of Commerce's first such dinner in Illinois, though similar events have been held in Washington, D.C., with members of Congress.
The dinner was primarily held to celebrate Ramadan -- an Islamic holiday where Muslims fast during the day -- with people from all faiths and backgrounds. Eksili said there's a need for all community members to understand the different religions that surround them.
The two groups also used the dinner as a platform for attendants to network and discuss economic ties with Turkey, which he says has a rapidly growing economy.
"We want to create an awareness (of Turkey) with our local friends," Eksili said.
Mayors from Schaumburg and Rochelle, Ill. are separately discussing possible "trade missions" to Turkey, Eksili said, where business leaders from each city would discuss different economic options with Turkish business executives.
Rochelle's Mayor Chet J. Olson, who was at the dinner, said his city has had a Japanese factory for a year and is discussing trade opportunities with business officials from South Korea, so it welcomes trade relations with Turkey.
At least four current and former state representatives attended the dinner, including 56th District Rep. Michelle Mussman from Schaumburg. She welcomed questions or concerns during dinner from guests in any district.
Former State Rep. Karen May for the 58th District said she's traveled to Turkey twice and loved learning about the culture. She told the audience that her husband asked why she's going to the dinner Monday night if she's no longer in office, and she replied, "Because they're my friends."
For businessman Cevdet Canpolat, the "iftar," or meal breaking the daytime fast, was more than a networking event.
Canpolat owns Canpolat Partners, a construction contracting company in Chicago. He said he appreciated the chance to network with other business owners, but also was excited to share his Turkish culture.
"I like to show my country (to others). I feel so good saying, 'This is me. This is us,'" Canpolat said.