Sociologist Louise Cainkar, an authority on immigrant Arabs and Muslims in the U.S., is leading a new study here aimed at speeding the civic integration of Muslims in their suburban communities.

Cainkar, a senior research fellow at the University of Illinois at Chicago Great Cities Institute, is chief investigator for the institute’s study, which is being financed with a $50,000 Chicago Community Trust grant. In an earlier look at the Chicago area, she wrote of the sense of exclusion felt by many Muslims — particularly in suburbs, where they have been moving in large numbers and especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Between now and February, she will concentrate on three suburbs — Bridgeview and Orland Park to Chicago’s southwest and Morton Grove to its north — where there have been serious protests aimed at mosques, existing or planned. Through historical records and interviews with community leaders, she said she hopes to discover ways to lower the social and political barriers Muslims face there.

In many suburbs, Muslims and non-Muslims exist in “parallel universes,” she said, one group rarely dealing with the other.

“Every new ethnic or religious group here has fought its way in, and it usually takes 20 to 30 years,” she said. “Recognizing that, let’s move the process faster, let’s not wait 30 years for Muslims to be elected to city councils or school boards.”

She said findings will be shared with Muslim groups.


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