At a time when increasing hate crimes are fueling anxiety in the Muslim-American community nationwide, a group of Muslims in Chicago is trying to counter stereotypes through holiday gift giving.
The annual “Muslim Turkey Drive” distributed 5,000 free turkeys to families of Chicago Public Schools students at eight schools in the city’s Woodlawn neighborhood Wednesday.
The drive started shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, said director Jihad Shoshara.
“My name is not necessarily a reassuring term in English,” he said. “But at these schools, it gratifies me that it's come to mean, you know, feeding people at Thanksgiving.”
The FBI recently reported that crimes against Muslim-Americans rose by an astounding 67 percent in 2015. The statistics came out after a bruising U.S. presidential election in which the Syrian refugee crisis and the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS, fueled concerns about immigration and terrorism.
Randa Loutfi said volunteering in the turkey drive helps keep her focused at a time when so much seems uncertain. She said she has lived in the United States for 30 years--currently in South Holland--but she is originally from Syria. Loutfi said she is worried about relatives who are still there.
President-elect Donald Trump had vowed on the campaign trail to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., but he later walked back from those remarks and said people visiting or immigrating the to country would undergo “extreme vetting.”
Loutfi said she has to comfort her school-age children who are anxious about their treatment under the Trump administration.
Still, Thanksgiving is a special day, Loutfi said.
“I identify with Thanksgiving,” she said. “And Fourth of July. It’s because [they] address all Americans. Whoever chose to come here, or was born here, can enjoy [those holidays].”
Sixteen-year-old Sahar Afeef distributed turkeys with her sister and uncle. She said she hopes events like this one will foster an understanding of Islam as a peaceful religion.
“A lot of people don’t read the Koran and they think [Muslims] are just violent people they are terrorists because of everything with ISIS,” she said “But I don’t think terrorists go around and help other people. I don’t think terrorists go around giving turkeys to other people.”
Miles Bryan is a reporter with WBEZ. You can follow him @miles__bryan.