Yard signs extend holiday greetings to Muslim neighbors, promote inclusion

NAPERVILLE, Ill. — Yard signs are typically thought of as carrying divisive political statements or paid advertisements, but in one community they hold a simple yet powerful message of unity: “To our Muslim neighbors, blessed Ramadan."

For the hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Illinois observing the month-long holiday of Ramadan, the saying is similar to wishing a Christian a "merry Christmas." A Naperville resident who put the first sign in her own yard, Kathy McBane, said it's a literal sign of respect for her Muslim neighbors.

"It’s an outstretched hand that says, 'I want to be a good neighbor,'" she said. "It’s a personal invitation for a dialogue."

The sign campaign originally started from an unlikely source: the Minnesota Council of Churches in 2016. Kathy was inspired by the campaign’s message of inclusion and brought it to her city, a first of its kind in the Chicago area. After paying for the first signs using her own money, she started an online fundraising campaign to print even more for her neighbors.

"We are part of a community and it’s good to let community members know they are welcomed and cared about," neighbor Marie Higgins said.

As a proud Muslim and Chicagoan, Lisle resident Asma Shaikh said she "always felt left out" growing up in the area. But she said the signs make her feel more included in her community, and even help her own children feel more confident growing up there.

"When I first heard about this it was a dream come true," Asma said. "Now today as I drive up to my driveway it brings tears of joy."

It’s not the first time Kathy — who is a Christian — has been compelled to find common ground with people of different faiths. Two and half years ago she started an organization called "Moms Building Bridges," with the intent to build connections with other faith groups. Asma was among the other mothers who joined.

"In this particular climate we’re living in, often times Muslims have been vilified and we have become afraid and that fear has been exploited," Kathy said.

"This is facilitating dialogue; this is what we need to educate one another and foster love and respect to one another," Asma said.

So far, Kathy says there are more than 150 signs planted in yards in six different communities, from Joliet to Arlington Heights.

"When I see someone like Asma who can talk about it with deep felt gratitude... I know we’re doing the right thing."

Kathy said she plans to continue the yard sign campaign next year.