Islamic Foundation's Villa Park rally calls for unity, solidarity

Imaan Ahmed first felt "scared to go out in public."

But in the wake of what she called discriminatory statements by several presidential candidates, the 18-year-old from Lombard also heard from neighbors and friends seeking to learn more about her faith.

"I respect the fact that they have been so inquisitive, and they have been asking me questions about Islam to a direct Muslim before they make judgments based on what they've learned through the media," she said.

Now, the freshman at Elmhurst College feels "energized" to speak out and joined in a show of unity Friday at the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park, where organizers of a rally also aimed to build connections and relationships with members of other faiths.

"We need to be a little more affirmative about getting involved and let people know who we are," said Azam Nizamuddin, an adjunct professor of Islamic studies at Loyola University and co-chairman of the foundation's interfaith committee.

Similar events have invited religious leaders, but the committee chose to broaden the audience to anyone from the community and specifically hosted the rally at the start of 2016.

The committee "felt that it was imperative to begin the new year, not separately, not in our own social, religious, racial enclaves, but rather to begin this auspicious new year 2016 together with family, friends, colleagues and members of our own religious communities and members from other religious communities," Nizamuddin said.

The rally drew more than 100 people, who solemnly listened to a reading of the Quran, participated in afternoon prayer at the mosque and often applauded speakers alongside an American flag.

"Part of being a united front is communicating with one another and doing kind of like what we're doing here today," Village President Deborah Bullwinkel told the gathering. " ... It's our job to learn from each other and get to know each other better."

Gretchen Grad joined about a dozen parishioners of her church, Glenview Community, which recently passed a resolution in support of Muslims in response to "political rhetoric."

"What we're hoping to foster is really advocacy, a realization that to be silent in the face of anti-religious rhetoric against any religion is an affront to all Americans," Grad said.

A few speakers directly rebuked Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the United States, while others looked ahead to the new year as "an opportunity to start over" and "do something different," said the Rev. Cliff Lyda, pastor of Elmhurst Presbyterian Church.

"We must be in relationship," he said.

  Azam Nizamuddin, co-chairman of the interfaith committee, helped organize a rally calling for unity and solidarity Friday at the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park. Paul Michna/
  "We want to start the new year on a good note, on a positive note of unity and solidarity," said Azam Nizamuddin, an adjunct professor of Islamic studies at Loyola University and co-chairman of the interfaith committee of the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park. Paul Michna/
  "This is what it's all about, unity and coming together as a community," Villa Park Village President Deborah Bullwinkel said during a rally Friday at the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park Paul Michna/
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