Arabs of Chicagoland: Chicago’s Southwest Suburbs Tour

Arabs of Chicagoland: Chicago’s Southwest Suburbs Tour

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Arabs of Chicagoland: Chicago’s Southwest Suburbs Tour

By Ray Hanania

Tours may vary but will include a stop at a Mosque, an Arab Church and a luncheon for Middle Eastern food. The following is the tour given for the City of Chicago program:


Although there are several Arab churches, St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cicero, Illinois is considered the largest. St. George Church has more than 2,500 parish families, although the majority come from throughout the six county Chicagoland region. There are many suburban Arab churches, but for the purposes of our tour, we focus on St. Mary Orthodox Church in Palos Heights.

St. Mary Orthodox Church, 6330 W 127th Street, Palos Heights , IL 60463, (708) 239-0004



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St. Mary Orthodox Church is a parish of the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, presided over by His Eminence Metropolitan JOSEPH (Zehlaoui). The chancery is located in Englewood, New Jersey. Metropolitan JOSEPH oversees over 250 parishes in the United States and Canada. St. Mary is part of the Diocese of the Midwest, which is overseen by His Grace Bishop ANTHONY.

At Saint Mary Orthodox Church, our mission is to serve God in all that we do, and to make Jesus Christ a real presence in the hearts of the faithful in Chicago and its suburbs.

In the summer of 2003, due to the large number of Orthodox Christians living in Chicago and its southwest suburbs, His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP (of thrice-blessed memory) assigned Fr. Malek Rihani and the faithful in this area to move forward and establish a mission church, with the Patronal Feast of the Holy Dormition. Soon after, His Eminence Metropolitan Philip assigned Dn. Saed Rihani to St. Mary, who became a source of support to Fr. Malek and the whole community in the establishment of this new mission. Fr. Malek also received the unconditional support of his wife and children, Khourieh Dina, Gary, and Angela.

In January of 2004, St. Mary’s began to hold services at St. Luke’s OCA Church in Palos Hills. This continued to be our home until December of 2004, when a church facility in Alsip, IL was purchased. The excitement of this permanent site was seen in the eyes of the entire community. With the purchase of this new property, many of our members stepped forward and took on new responsibilities. Our organizations (Sunday School, Antiochain Women, Fellowship, SOYO, Choir, etc.) expanded their projects and activities, because they now had a home from which to do God’s work.
In the spring of 2007, Metropolitan PHILIP assigned Fr. Mousa Haddad as the pastor of Saint Mary. In May of 2007, Fr. Mousa arrived with his wife, Khourieh Delia, and their two children, Anthony and Philip.

Between 2009 and 2011, the church facility in Alsip underwent major renovation of the church and fellowship hall, including renovating the altar and adding a new iconostas with beautiful hand-painted icons. In May of 2011, the church was consecrated by the hands of His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP.

Under the leadership of Fr. Mousa, Fr. Malek, and Dn. Saed, Saint Mary has seen tremendous progress: an increase in attendance and membership; a fuller cycle of liturgical services; a Christ centered ministry; an increase in spiritual activities; an increase in philanthropy and service to the community; an emphasis on full-time youth ministry.

In the summer of 2011, we were blessed again by God: a 42,000 square foot church facility became available in Palos Heights, Illinois, the heart of our community. With limited funds and time, the community stepped up to the challenge. In just 10 weeks, by God’s grace, our community achieved what many people thought was impossible: raising funds and securing financing to purchase this new church facility in Palos Heights.“With God, all things are possible.” We closed on the new church facility on January 23, 2012, celebrating our first Divine Liturgy on April 29, 2012. This 42,000 square foot facility, that will accommodate our growing church family for many years to come, includes a sanctuary that will seat more than 500 people (after remodeling), a fellowship hall, a gymnasium, a school and daycare facility with 18 classrooms, a large multi-purpose room, an administrative wing with 12 offices and conference rooms, and almost 250 parking spaces.

Within such a short period of time, Saint Mary Orthodox Church has grown from a concept to becoming the reality of a large parish. By the grace of God, the church is filled every Sunday. We are grateful to our Almighty God and His Holy Mother for showering us with their blessings. Yet we have many challenges ahead of us. However, we learned early on that when our hearts are full of love, forgiveness, patience, and most of all sincere prayer, that all obstacles will be removed, and doors will be wide open for us. If we keep Christ at the center of our ministry, God will bless us and help us accomplish what may seem impossible. For with God, all things are possible!
Saint Mary Orthodox Church has many programs and activities to nourish the faithful: a Sunday School with over 100 registrants; weekly Adult Bible Studies; monthly SOYO Bible Studies; monthly Fellowship Bible Studies; monthly Family activities; annual Christmas SOYO retreat; annual Fellowship retreat; annual Junior High retreat; annual Ladies Guild Retreat; annual Marriage Retreat; a summer Vacation Bible School; Holy Land Pilgrimages; an Arabic School; St. Mary’s Dabkeh Troupe; and the “Liturgy after the Liturgy” humanitarian program, in which we give back to the community through different volunteering and philanthropic events.

Each one of us has been gifted with a talent by God; a talent which God has given us for the growth of His Holy Church. As we read in the Gospel of Matthew, he who buries his talents is not rewarded, but he who multiplies his talents, for the Glory of God, will receive treasures in heaven! We are grateful to all those who stepped forward, rolled up their sleeves, and made things happen. They spoke very little, but they accomplished much. The only reward we hope to get is that in the fullness of time, we will hear the words of our Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.”

The Virgin Mary is our protector, and she intercedes on our behalf to her Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. She stands as our example of faith and commitment to serve the Lord. As she received the calling of the angel Gabriel to bear the Son of God, and to commit her life to the Lord, so we too must receive the word of God, accept His Will, and serve Him to the best of our ability. As we pray in the Divine Liturgy, “Through the intercessions of the Theotokos, Savior, save us!”


Antiochian comes from the name of the ancient city of Antioch, which was founded by Christians and Jews who fled persecution during the Roman Empire in the 250 years after Jesus was crucified. It became important when Peter (Simon “Fisher of men”) who Jesus selected as a disciple fled there to avoid persecution. Antioch was on the road to Damascus in the South and east and became one of the first Christian colonies, again Christians and Jews who believed in Jesus.

Peter (Cephas in Aramaic) was the first of the disciples to enter the Tomb of Jesus after his crucifixion to discover he had risen from the dead.

Many Christians believe that Peter began the Christian Church and is considered by them as the First Pope. But Catholics only believe in Paul as the First Pope and vehemently reject the designation of Peter as the first Pope.

Peter was crucified upside down, at his request, by the Roman Caesar, Nero Augustus Caesar.

Antioch was located near the border with Syria and there are many relics of Christian Jewish settlement there.

Remember, the early Christians were actually Jews who believed in the teachings of Jesus, their Rabbi, but Jesus was rejected by the mainstream Jews. Today, the Turkish city of Antakya sits on where Antioch once was located.

For many years Antiochian Christians followed the teachings of the Greek Orthodox Church, but split with the Greek Orthodox Church only recently over the Greek Orthodox Church’s wholesale of lands in Palestine to Israel. In the 1980s, Antiochian Christians split from the Greek Orthodox Church.

Antioch was also a Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church which included Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.


In 1954, a handful of Palestinian immigrants on Chicago’s famous Southside established the Mosque Foundation of Chicago with the dream of one day building a structure to house the religious and cultural activities of their growing young families. Today, that dream is reality as the Mosque Foundation has become one of the busiest mosques in America, serving a community of more than 50,000 Muslims.

Bridgeview Mosque Overview 2014

Built in 1981 on a few acres of swampy land in the middle of mostly abandoned prairie in Bridgeview, the Mosque Foundation began as a small structure with a maximum prayer hall capacity of 300 worshippers. No one could foresee that the mosque’s establishment would inspire a Muslim neighborhood of hundreds of beautiful new homes around the mosque, two full-time Islamic schools at its perimeters, a Community Center down the road, and dozens of thriving businesses.

The community has steadily diversified to include Muslims of many languages and experiences—all praying side-by-side. Imams are active in education, counseling, spiritual guidance, and arbitration. Community members work with local and national Islamic, interfaith, and civic organizations on numerous initiatives such as protecting American civil liberties, empowering Muslims, improving the quality of urban life, and helping the poor, the immigrants, and the oppressed by advocating for justice and peace.

Very early on, Chicago area Muslims rented various sites around the south side of Chicago to hold congregational Eid Prayers and celebrations. Friday prayers were sometimes held in storefront properties of Muslim-owned businesses. As the population of the Muslim community grew, the need was realized to purchase property. So, in 1963, a church located at 6500 S. Steward Avenue was purchased and converted into a prayer hall and school for the community of more than a hundred Arab Muslim families living in the southwest side of Chicago at the time.

Arabic language and religion classes were held in the Steward property, as well as various community functions. Several years later, the building was sold to purchase a storefront property at 79th and Clyde Avenue.

The Clyde property was sold shortly thereafter, with the proceeds reserved to purchase land in Bridgeview, where the Mosque currently stands. Designs of the Mosque were presented in 1977, and construction began in November 1978. Three years later, in 1981, the doors to the Mosque Foundation were officially opened, and the first congregational prayers were held. All five daily obligatory prayers and Friday congregational prayers were offered from the start, as well as nightly Taraweeh prayers during the month of Ramadan. Quran recitation classes, Hadith lectures, and regular monthly meetings were established to serve the spiritual and social needs of the community.

It is impossible to overestimate the impact the Mosque Foundation has had on the community, particularly the youth. While a youth group was formed very early on to cater to the needs of the younger generation, a separate building designated for the youth was purchased and opened in 1996. We have witnessed young men who seemed destined to a life of crime and violence become outstanding citizens who are now students and professionals in a variety of fields, due largely in part to those dedicated youth mentors.

During the 1990’s, the Mosque Foundation community expanded greater than anyone could have predicted. The growing needs and increasing numbers required the Mosque Foundation to expand its original facility, which was completed in 1998. Yet, even as the new prayer area nearly doubled in size, two Friday Congregational Prayers and two evening Ramadan Taraweeh Prayers were still needed to serve the large community. Among the many functions of a mosque is to serve the needy, and its various roles in serving the community continues to grow. For example, in 2005 the Mosque Foundation opened a Community Food Pantry to help combat hunger for low income families in the local community.

This is an unavoidably brief history of the Mosque Foundation, but it’s important to know the services this institution provides in a general sense that cannot be dated through:

• Providing an environment in which men and women may worship with peace of mind and a sense of home.
• Thousands of young people learning the morals and ethics of their religion in the weekend schools.
• Hundreds of families receiving counseling for a variety of personal concerns, marriage matters, dispute resolutions, and bereavement and funeral services.
• Providing many social services for the underprivileged, free health screenings, and support for needy families.
• Reaching out and establishing strong relations with leaders and congregations of other faith communities—Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish. The Mosque Foundation is committed to the noble enterprise of mutual understanding.

History Timeline

1954: Official Registration of Establishment
1963: Interim property at 6500 S. Steward Avenue purchased
1969: Steward Avenue property sold and storefront property at 79th & Clyde Avenue purchased
1976: Tax-exempt Status Approved
1977: Mosque Architectural Plan Completed
1978: Construction Begins
1981: Mosque Opened
1986: Aqsa School opened in the Mosque until 1996
1996: Youth Center Opened
1998: Interim Expansion Completed
2002: Lot for Additional Parking Purchased
2004: Re-opened Youth Center after Major Remodeling
2005: Food Pantry Opened
2006: Expanded Youth Center to Community Center
2008: Second major expansion Completed


About 85 percent of Arabs are Sunni and 15 percent are Shia. The differences between Sunnis and Shia are very similar to splits in other religions, similar to the split between the Greek Orthodox and the Antiochian Orthodox Christians.

In 632, The Prophet Mohammed died. Immediately, there was a battle to determine his successor.

Sunnis believe that Abu Bakr, the father of Muhammad’s wife Aisha, was Muhammad’s rightful successor and that the method of choosing or electing leaders (Shura) endorsed by the Quran is the consensus of the Ummah (the Muslim community).

Shias believe that Muhammad divinely ordained his cousin and son-in-law Ali (the father of his grandsons Hasan ibn Ali and Hussein ibn Ali) in accordance with the command of God to be the next caliph, making Ali and his direct descendants Muhammad’s successors. Ali was married to Fatimah, Muhammad’s daughter from his wife Khadijah bint Khuwaylid.

(Ray Hanania is the author of “Arabs of Chicagoland” published in 2005 by Arcadia Publishing, and is an Arab American journalist and historian. He can be reached at


Islam comes from an Arabic root word meaning “peace” and “submission.” Islam teaches that one can only find peace in one’s life by submitting to Almighty God (Allah) in heart, soul and deed. The same Arabic root word gives us “Salaam alaykum,” (“Peace be with you”), the universal Muslim greeting.

A person who believes in and follows Islam is a “Muslim” which means one who submits.

Islam has more than 1 billion followers worldwide more than 20 percent of the world’s population. It is an Abrahamic, monotheistic faith, along with Judaism and Christianity. Less than 10% of Muslims are in fact Arab. Allah is the proper name for God and is an Arabic word which means “God.” Allah is not a different God than the God of Christians and Jews.

The basic beliefs of Muslims fall into six main categories, which are known as the “Articles of Faith”:

  • Faith in the unity of God
  • Faith in angels
  • Faith in prophets
  • Faith in books of revelation Faith in an afterlife
  • Faith in destiny/divine decree

The “five pillars” of Islam: In Islam, faith and good works go hand-in-hand. A mere verbal declaration of faith is not enough, for belief in Allah makes obedience to Him a duty. These are five formal acts of worship which help strengthen a Muslim’s faith and obedience. They are often called the “Five Pillars of Islam.”

  • Testimony of faith (Kalima)
  • Prayer (salah)
  • Fasting (Sawn)
  • Almsgiving Zakat)
  • Pilgrimage (Hajj

The first mosque was the house of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina. This was a simple rectangular (53 by 56 m) enclosure containing rooms for the Prophet and his wives and a shaded area on the south side of the courtyard which could be used for prayer in the direction of Mecca.

This building became the model for subsequent mosques which had the same basic courtyard layout with a prayer area against the qibla wall.

The first of these is the minbar, or pulpit, which was used by Muhammad to give sermons, and an Imam who leads proayers. A later introduction was the mihrab or prayer niche which was first introduced by the Umayyad caliph al-Walid in the eighth century.

Other features include the ablutions facilities and a central pool or fountain and the minaret which seems to make its first appearance in the Abbasid period. A facility for purification (udu, which is conducted before prayer, is important as well. Muslims purify their bodies with water then carry out their prayer. Water flowing from fountains (hauz) in the courtyard (sahan) is not only important for ritual purposes but it effectively creates a pure and clean atmosphere.

Also during this formative period the maqsura was introduced which was designed to provide privacy and protection to the ruler and also possibly to give him added mystery.

Muslims, who are considered to be equal in the eyes of God, pray collectively, lining up parallel to the qibla wall, being led by the imam.

A tower (minaret, minar), from which a call for prayer can be announced, is not necessarily essential, however, it is a facility often seen in mosques. In Muslim towns, the voice of muazzin (a person who recites a call for prayer) reverberates from the minaret in the mosque before each prayer five x a day.

Also, in Islam it is not considered to be good for women to be seen by males outside of her own family. Thus a special area for female prayer (zanana) may be provided in mosques.


Jihad — moral struggle Madrassa – school

Sunni versus Shi’ite — The Qu’ran does not distinguish differences between Muslims. However, men do and in the middle of the 7th Century following the death of the Prophet Muhammed, there was a disagreement over who was the successor to Muhammed.

Sufism is a mystic tradition within Islam and encompasses a diverse range of beliefs and practices dedicated to divine love and the cultivation of the heart. “Sufism” has been defined as a type of knowledge by the great Sufi masters. Shaykh Ahmad Zarruq, a 14th century Sufi who wrote “The Principles of Sufism” defined Sufism as, “a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God.” Ibn ‘Ajiba, one of the best known Sufi masters defined Sufism as “a science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the Divine, purify one’s inward from filth and beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits.”

Hutba – initial prayer (citing name of ruler at the time was traditional)

Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was born in AD570, the posthumous son of a Hashemite from Mecca (Makkah). His mother died when he was about six and he was brought up by his grandfather, who had him set up as a merchant by the time he was 25. His teachings began around 612, but despite gaining some followers he was rejected by the townsmen and was forced to leave for Medina (Madinah) in 622.

For the next decade he organized the Islamic creating a community based on the will of God. His activities led to the persecution of the early Muslims, followed by years of conflict, mainly with the Meccans, as the number of Muslims increased. By his death in 632, many Arabian tribes had either joined or been subdued by the Muslims.

Within a year of the Prophet’s death, the Muslims had advanced into Iraq, and by the early years of the following century had reached the River Indus and the Pyranees.

In the context of this remarkable expansion, the victory of Charles Martel at Tours (732) must rank as one of the most decisive in history. Most of the countries which were conquered during this period still remain Islamic or else have large Muslim populations.


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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at, and at, and at He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper,, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

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