Area Islamic groups band together to help Afghan refugees

  • Suzanne Akhras Sahloul

    Suzanne Akhras Sahloul

  • Kaveh Hemmat

    Kaveh Hemmat

  • "The Story of Ram," an outdoor immersive performance in celebration of the Hindu festival of Diwali, will be held Oct. 9 in Naperville.

    "The Story of Ram," an outdoor immersive performance in celebration of the Hindu festival of Diwali, will be held Oct. 9 in Naperville. Courtesy of Mandala South Asian Performing Arts

  • "The Story of Ram," an outdoor immersive performance in celebration of the Hindu festival of Diwali, will be held Oct. 9 in Naperville. Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, is one of the major Hindu celebrations. The family-friendly performances will be at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the historic Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St.

    "The Story of Ram," an outdoor immersive performance in celebration of the Hindu festival of Diwali, will be held Oct. 9 in Naperville. Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, is one of the major Hindu celebrations. The family-friendly performances will be at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the historic Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St. Courtesy of Mandala South Asian Performing Arts

  • "The Story of Ram," an outdoor immersive performance in celebration of the Hindu festival of Diwali, will be held Oct. 9 in Naperville. Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, is one of the major Hindu celebrations. The family-friendly performances will be at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the historic Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St.

    "The Story of Ram," an outdoor immersive performance in celebration of the Hindu festival of Diwali, will be held Oct. 9 in Naperville. Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, is one of the major Hindu celebrations. The family-friendly performances will be at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the historic Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St. Courtesy of Mandala South Asian Performing Arts

  • Toya Webb, Elgin Community College chief marketing and communications officer, will speak during the Illinois Business Education Association's 59th annual virtual conference, Nov. 4-5.

    Toya Webb, Elgin Community College chief marketing and communications officer, will speak during the Illinois Business Education Association's 59th annual virtual conference, Nov. 4-5. Courtesy of Elgin Community College

  • Traci Ellis, chief equity officer for Aurora-based Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.

    Traci Ellis, chief equity officer for Aurora-based Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.

  • State Rep. Janet Yang Rohr of Naperville

    State Rep. Janet Yang Rohr of Naperville

 
 
Updated 10/4/2021 11:32 AM

A coalition of Islamic groups is coming together to help new waves of Afghan refugees arriving in the Chicago area.

The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago's Afghan Task Force is leading the effort.

 

"We have about 10 to 15 organizations that are part of the Afghan refugee task force," said Suzanne Akhras Sahloul of Burr Ridge, a CIOGC board member and co-chair of the task force.

Sahloul founded the Syrian Community Network in 2015, which works mainly with Syrian refugees. Her organization now is helping with case management for newly arrived Afghan refugees.

Other groups on the task force are involved in collecting food and in-kind donations, providing domestic violence support, youth services, and helping place or reunite unaccompanied minors with family members -- nearly 70 minors arrived at Chicago O'Hare International Airport last month.

"It's good to flex our strength together," Sahloul said. "It builds trust and community building. We are serving a higher cause than all of us, which (is) people who have been fleeing war."

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Sahloul said the Office of Refugee Resettlement has identified about 800 Afghans who will be resettled in Illinois among the first wave of refugees.

A second wave is expected to bring an influx of thousands more. As more refugees come in, task force members will put out a call for monetary and in-kind donations, such as furnishings for housing, food, winter clothing, and back-to-school supplies.

"We should really plan for 3,000, because you don't know how things will shape (up)," Sahloul said. "You have to build the capacity of the organizations who are doing the work on the ground. We are being preemptive in organizing so if there is an influx, we are ready to go. We want to fill gaps."

Community members also can volunteer to organize a donation drive through their mosques, churches and other groups, she added.

Mental health needs

The Aurora Police Department has put together a team of officers and social workers to help people with special needs or mental illness and their families.

The Crisis Intervention Team Enhanced was launched last year in response to a growing need for crisis intervention services for at-risk people in mental health crisis. The team is called when police encounter people with suicidal or homicidal tendencies or people who can't take care of themselves.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A collaboration of Aurora police, Aurora University and Family Service Association of the Greater Elgin, its goal is to identify people who would be better served by receiving mental health services instead of being put in jail.

CITE comprises 35 patrol officers who are first responders, a bilingual/bicultural police social worker, two social work interns and a police social work supervisor with a consulting psychiatrist. Officer David Guevara is the team coordinator.

Humanities award

Kaveh Hemmat, a professor of history, philosophy and theology at Benedictine University in Lisle, has been awarded the National Endowment for the Humanities Grant for his "Khataynameh" ("Book of China") Translation Project.

Hemmat is collaborating with a team of scholars to produce an annotated translation of the narrative written by Ali Akbar Khatayi, a Persian merchant who traveled to China in the 16th century, for print and digital publication.

The translation project is part of a larger effort to address structural racism, said Hemmat, an Iranian American who is the principal investigator for the project.

Hemmat has been studying the history of the Middle East, the Silk Road and the Islamic world for years.

Khatayi traveled to Beijing around 1506, then traveled back across the continent to Istanbul, where he wrote this book for the rising Ottoman Empire. Written in 1516 in Persian, it describes China's political system and society under the Ming dynasty. It later was translated into Turkish.

"The Book of China" was the most substantial, longest description of China in any western Afro-Eurasian language written until the 1580s, Hemmat said.

"One of the reasons why this book warrants this attention, it is based on the lore of these trade merchants of China at the time," he said. "We need to understand this as part of a shared story of human political history."

Diwali festival

Mandala South Asian Performing Arts will present "The Story of Ram," in celebration of the Hindu festival of Diwali, on Oct. 9 in Naperville.

Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, is one of the major Hindu celebrations.

The family-friendly, outdoor immersive performance will be held at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the historic Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St.

"We modeled the production after Shakespeare in the Parks and other mobile, outdoor theater," said Ashwaty Chennat, Mandala's associate artistic director. "Our exciting challenge was to incorporate intercultural and nonverbal performing arts into this structure."

"The Story of Ram" is Mandala's interpretation of the ancient epic "Ramayana." It's a multidimensional piece combining contemporary culture and mythology and including dance, music and puppetry. The tale permeates the arts throughout South and Southeast Asia, and weaves together cultures from India, Indonesia and Thailand.

Tickets are $25 for the 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. shows and $100 for the 5 p.m. fundraiser performance. For more information, visit mandalaarts.org/the-story-of-ram/.

Women leaders

Three suburban women leaders will talk about equity and inclusion during the Illinois Business Education Association's 59th annual virtual conference, Nov. 4-5.

Speakers include Toya Webb, chief marketing and communications officer for Elgin Community College, state Rep. Janet Yang Rohr of Naperville and Traci O'Neal Ellis, chief equity and human resources officer for Aurora-based Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.

Webb, a former news reporter, recently published a study on racial microaggressions outlining the impact of stereotypes in the workplace and amplifying the voices of Black women in leadership. She received the YWCA Leadership Award in communications and technology and was recognized as a "40 under 40" leader by the American Association for Women in Community Colleges. She will speak from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. Nov. 4.

Ellis is author of "The Exceptional Negro: Racism, White Privilege and the Law of Respectability Politics." A graduate and former school board member of Elgin Area School District U-46, she won Elgin's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Humanitarian Award in 2018. She will speak from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Nov. 4.

Rohr represents Illinois' 41st House District and formerly served on the Naperville Unit District 203 school board. She will speak from 4 to 5 p.m. Nov. 4

Register for the conference at ibea.org. Early bird deadline is Friday.

• Share stories, news and happenings from the suburban mosaic at mkrishnamurthy@dailyherald.com.

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