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Muslim women’s group celebrating 40 years

Members of the Islamic Cultural Center Women’s Group in Northbrook are reflecting on their past, present and future, seeing as how it will soon be time to commemorate their 40th anniversary this year. While it’s a milestone that brings a lot of meaning, misrepresentation of Muslim’s in the media today is one challenge they hope will be eradicated in the years to come.

The Muslim women’s group has called the Village of Northbrook its home from the beginning, giving back to local and international causes through fundraising, interfaith collaborations and other efforts. In 2016, the women’s group hopes to stay grounded in their roots and engage the community through celebratory events, in which many of the details have yet to be finalized.

Nedime Tanovic, president of the women’s group, has been a member at the Islamic Cultural Center since 1989 and recounts having been present for the mosque’s groundbreaking in 1973.

“I like the center,” she said. “It’s close to me. The members are very diverse. There aren’t many mosques around here. I’ve met so many people from different backgrounds.”

Over the years, the nation saw a rise in the number of mosques planted between the ’80s and ‘90s.

Effat Moussa, treasurer for the women’s group, has been a member at the Islamic Cultural Center since the ‘80s and finds home in her place of worship in Northbrook. She said while there is a mosque closer to where she lives and a couple others in the area, she doesn’t feel the same connection to it, given how they are set up and feelings experienced when observing worship services.

The way mosques are set up at times divides families on the basis of gender. Moussa said she finds a greater connection to the Islamic Cultural Center in Northbrook since it’s less strict.

“At ICC, we pray in the same hall,” she said. “We feel normal.”

Prior to the formation of the women’s group, members of Islamic Cultural Center formed a group for Bosnian women, giving them a place to share a love in their faith.

“They didn’t speak English,” Tanovic said of the Bosnian women’s group. “They formed their own group. ICC women’s group is for everyone.”

Tanovic said she loves how they’re able to meet and mingle with people from different backgrounds.

The Islamic Cultural Center is home to Muslims coming from a range of ethnic backgrounds, including Turks, Egyptians, Palestinians and Bosnians, among others.

In reflecting on perceptions of Muslim as seen in the media in recent months, Moussa rebutted that no truth rests in the way media represents their followers.

“I’ve been in the states for 50 years,” she said. “I don’t wear a hijab; my students know I’m a Muslim; it’s a catholic school. I don’t feel the negative portrayal of the media represents us. They don’t give enough of us time to speak.”

Moussa said it brings people closer when they get to know and learn things about one another.

“We have the same morals and values,” she said. “The media focuses on the negative. We believe in peace, harmony, education for our children, helping others—all things that Christians and Jews believe.”

The Muslim women’s group faces its own challenges in bridging a gap between the older and younger generations. Moussa said although they aim to be an open and welcoming congregation, many younger persons will have other responsibilities to attend to, whether it’s school or work, and mingle outside themselves.

“The younger generations (Bosnian) are more self-sufficient,” she said. “As a human group, we have different backgrounds.”

Moussa said in moving forward, the women’s group hopes to keep their community together and continue running their mosque.

Tanovic mirrored that sentiment, explaining how important it is to keep a dialogue running between different faiths, and to keep it lively where misconceptions can be dispelled.

“It’s important to know about different faiths and beliefs—Christians, Jews,” she said. “I like to learn about different beliefs. You used to have this dialogue between Christians and Jews and Muslims. Dialogue helps a lot.”