Daily Herald: Melding national, religious identity key for Muslims

Beefed-up airport screens target anyone with a head covering — cowboy hats, turbans, hijabs and all.

A Chicago-bound flight is grounded because six men speaking Arabic concerned a passenger.

Such realities confront more than 400,000 Muslim-Americans in the Chicago region alone who struggle to meld their faith and nationality. They are among more than 6 million and growing Muslims nationwide

“They are as much a part of this country as everyone else,” Parvez Ahmed, national chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said during an interview Thursday with the Daily Herald editorial board.

Ahmed’s visit came on the eve of the nation’s largest Muslim conference, planned for this weekend in Rosemont.

The Islamic Society of North America will draw an estimated 30,000 people to consider everything from medical aspects of fasting during Ramadan next month to political campaigning and community involvement.

The conversation comes at a critical time, organizers say.

“America is your flag. Islam is your religion. You can grow into both,” said Ahmed Rehab, a Park Ridge native who heads CAIR’s Chicago office.

The latest growing pain came this week.

An American Airlines flight bound for O’Hare International Airport was grounded in San Diego on Tuesday when a passenger heard six men speaking Arabic and acting oddly. Transportation Security Administration officials said the airplane returned to the gate because of “suspicious activity.” The incident resulted in no arrests.

Rehab calls the event a milestone. “We are deplaning people for who they are, not what they do,” Rehab said.

The confusion augments concern within the Muslim-American community.

Many Muslims and Sikhs balk at airport security measures enacted this month that mandate heightened scrutiny for anyone donning a hat of some kind. Within the Muslim and Sikh communities, head coverings are a religious observance.

TSA officials reject any suggestion of racial profiling. They say new guidelines target clothing that might hide an explosive device, be it a habit or a hijab, the headscarf often worn by Muslim women.

“We have to realize this is an issue that is important for all Americans,” Ahmed said, “not just Muslim-Americans.”

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