Chicago History Museum Explores Muslim Culture in New Exhibition

Chicago News

“American Medina: Stories of Muslim Chicago” Opens Monday, October 21

A hub of culture, Chicago has long been home to people of various religious and ethnic backgrounds. Often referred to as the American Medina, the city is and has become home to thousands of Muslims as Medina in modern day Saudi Arabia has been for centuries. Since the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which featured some of the first mosques in the United States, diverse Muslim communities have made Chicago their home.

Journey through the experiences of Chicago’s Muslim communities in the new exhibition, “American Medina: Stories of Muslim Chicago” opening on Monday, October 21 at the Chicago History Museum. The exhibition is the third in a series of religious-themed projects.

“American Medina breaks new ground for the Museum. This interactive, multi-media exhibition weaves together oral history interviews of Muslim Chicagoans with a broad array of artifacts loaned to the Museum by community members from across the region,” said Peter Alter, Chief Historian at the Chicago History Museum and Director of the Studs Terkel Center for Oral History. “In a collaborative and community focused way, American Medina explores the lives and histories of Muslim Chicagoans, offering visitors new perspectives on the city’s and the country’s history.”

Visitors will listen to the experiences and thought-provoking personal narratives of Chicago’s diverse Muslim communities through more than 30 audio interviews. “American Medina: Stories of Muslim Chicago” highlights three resoundingly prominent themes that arose out of the interviews: identity, journey, and faith. Oral history interviews delve into the history of some of the first Muslim communities and the stories of subsequent generations that have made Chicago home for the past 120 years. The exhibition also offers a basic introduction to the Islamic faith to non-Muslim Chicagoans.

Over 30 oral histories along with objects and photographs spanning the last century bring this compelling story to life. Objects on view include:

  • Muhammad Ali’s autographed jump rope
  • Materials documenting Muslim converts faith journeys
  • Prayer beads and prayer rugs borrowed from throughout the area’s Muslimcommunities

Between the journey and faith sections, visitors will enter an area of the exhibition filled with photography, archival footage and artifacts that document Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism worldwide, including in the Chicago area.

Teen historians from city and suburban communities have participated in many aspects of the exhibition. As paid part-time employees of the Chicago History Museum, the teen historians have collected oral histories for the project, conducted historical research, and lead the development of the exhibition’s introductory short film. Each teen historian brings their own knowledge and vast combined experiences of community work to the project.

Admission to the exhibition is included with regular Museum admission ($19 adults/ $17 seniors and students, and free for children 12 years of age and younger and Illinois residents 18 years and younger). The exhibition will run through May 2021. For more information on “American Medina: Stories of Muslim Chicago,” visit chicagohistory.org/muslimchicago.

Leave a Reply