Reporter’s Notebook: Thoughts behind writing “Making a home in C-U”

By Abrar Al-Heeti

I grew up in Champaign-Urbana, and the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center has been a second home to me. I think my biggest challenge while writing this story was viewing the mosque as an outsider. I walk through those red metal doors several times a week. I stack my shoes on those shelves and pray on that blue rug all the time. Picking out those visuals was something I had to be walked through in the editing process.

I also gained a new perspective on Islam in America. Muhammad Abdullah said something that stuck with me: “In my opinion, this is the best society in the world for the future of Muslims.”

I was surprised by this statement — How could a country so plagued by xenophobia and Islamophobia be the best for the future of Muslims?

He explained that the U.S. is not battling the political and social issues plaguing the Muslim world, and it won’t face the after effects of the refugee crisis that Europe likely will. There is a higher number of professional, educated Muslims who are in a good position to make an impact here and around the world.

America is the land of opportunity, and Muslims here have the resources to rise up against hateful rhetoric and show the world what we have to offer. We are members of this society just as much as anyone else, and it’s up to us to work with our local communities and make our presence known. After all, despite what a particular politician has to say about us, we’re here to stay.

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What I gleaned from the reporting process was a greater appreciation for the local mosque and the people who founded it. Hearing about their efforts to establish a strong Muslim community and connections with members of other religious groups made me reflect on how I take my comfort here for granted. Champaign-Urbana is an open and diverse community, but if it weren’t for those early efforts, we’d still be praying in other organization’s facilities, and the Muslim community wouldn’t have a unified presence.

Abdullah also said his hope rests on the shoulders of the younger generation. It’s up to us to continue the hard work of our elders and to fight against discrimination. Our struggles are unique, but the experience of struggling is not. Every generation has faced its own challenges, and now it’s our time. Let’s not let our opportunities as Americans go to waste.

Read the longform.

Abrar is a senior in Media.
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