An American Ramadan
By Ras H. Siddiqui

The Muslim Community Association (MCA) of the San Francisco Bay Area facility in Santa Clara, California, became the focal point of a sharing of faiths and much more. Over 400 people from diverse backgrounds participated in the traditional Islamic ritual of the breaking of the fast during Ramadan called the “Iftar” here on Saturday, October 23, 2004.

L to R :Fouad Khatib,Imam Tahir Anwar,Razi Mohiuddin,Rick Rocamora and Robert Davis

As guests of three organizations namely, the Council on American Islamic Relations or (CAIR), the South Bay Islamic

Iftar dinner

Association (SBIA) and the MCA, a wide spectrum of invited non-Muslims got a chance to witness Islamic beliefs and practices during this blessed month of fasting so that this sharing could result in the widening of trans-religious understanding which the perpetrators of the horrors of 9/11/2001 sought to prevent.

The proceedings began with a recitation from the Holy Qur’an followed by its English translation by 12-year-old Lana Almari, currently a student at the Granada School at this MCA facility. Lana’s only departure from the norm here was that she was reciting for a very diverse group this time where non-Muslims might actually have been in the majority. Another interesting difference was the backdrop, dominated by the superb photography of Rick Rocamora whose “Freedom and Fear: Bay Area Muslims after 9/11” exhibit has recently received much scrutiny and critical acclaim.

Santa Clara interfaith Iftar

MCA President Razi Mohiuddin began the speech segment with words of welcome as the site host. “Only through getting together do we build bridges of understanding,” he said. Razi continued to explain to the guests how Ramadan fasting was a time of deep spirituality for Muslims, and beyond that an opportunity to empathize with the less fortunate in society (who frequently experience hunger). Giving the guests a glimpse of what the MCA provides, its president explained that this large 80,000 square foot facility was the center of the organization where the Islamic Center and School are located. Another site, the Masjid An- Noor was also an MCA location. He informed everyone that the services that this organization offers include counseling, game room activities and adult education (to name a few). “We have a global village here,” he said, pointing to the fact that people from 40 different ethnicities frequent the MCA.

CAIR California Chairman Fouad Khatib spoke next. He explained to the guests that there were 6 to 7 million Muslims in the US whose numbers could basically be split three ways: 1) Middle Easterners (Arab etc.), 2) South Asians (from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan), and 3) African-Americans. Fouad added that Muslims were well represented in educated, middle-class America and happened to be quite family-oriented.

Chief Robert Davis with friends

He also went on to say that Muslims have been in this country for a long time starting with African-American slaves. The first record of a mosque in this country was in the 19th century. He spoke of the 100,000 plus Muslim population in the San Francisco Bay area where 30 mosques are active. Fouad also provided a background of CAIR as a 10-year-old organization headquartered in Washington, DC which promotes an understanding of Islam, encourages dialogue with other faiths, and promotes civil liberties (and justice for all).

Imam Tahir Anwar spoke on behalf of the SBIA. He said that the organization was founded in 1977 in San Jose and covered Southern Santa Clara County, including the Evergreen area. The young Imam got the opportunity to speak to the gathering till the time to break the fast. He gave an overview of Islam, its 1.2 billion following worldwide and its beliefs and practices. Islam means peace achieved through submission to God.

Islam does not differentiate amongst races, national origins and wealth. The roots of Islam find commonality with other monotheistic faiths like Judaism and Christianity. Its Holy book is the unaltered Qur’an and it also incorporates other writings called the Hadith. “Allah is the Arabic word for God,” said the Imam. He also gave a moving picture of the Hajj and presented a brief introduction to”the five pillars” of the Islamic faith for the benefit of the non-Muslims present, including an introduction to Ramadan fasting during which even water cannot be consumed (depending on the sunrise time and sunset). Imam Anwar also explained the Islamic months and their lunar dependency. That the SBIA has to rent the Santa Clara Fairgrounds facility in advance for two days at a time for Eid gatherings brought many a smile within the gathering (because we do not know till the night before on which day the Eid holiday dependent on the moon sighting will be celebrated).

And now to the breaking of the fast or “Iftar” and the final speaker, San Jose Police Chief Robert Davis who has made quite an impact in this region by making a most unusual gesture towards the Muslim community in San Jose and the surrounding area. He has decided to fast for the entire month of Ramadan as a part of his outreach effort to develop an understanding with the followers of the Islamic faith. “You are a vibrant part of our community,” said Chief Davis. “We are really all alike. We are all the children of God. Ramadan Mubarak,” he added

It was a joyous occasion to be breaking bread and sharing dates with not just a fasting Chief of Police but the Mayor of Santa Clara, Patricia Mahan and Andrew and Karen Ratermann (Andrew is a Member of the School Board in the Santa Clara Unified School District), along with The Rev. Canon Charles Gibbs (of the United Religions Initiative) and a host of other notables and the aspiring (this was the final pre-election week).

Samina Fahim of the AMV, Omar Ahmad of CAIR and Athar Siddiqee also appeared to be hard at work in the area of social networking. The event was very well planned all the way down to the table setting and the “Salaam Cola” which is making more frequent appearances at Muslim gatherings. CAIR, MCA and the SBIA can all be proud of this effort.

And now some thoughts that come to mind after attending this event. Ramadan is certainly a deeply spiritual month for Muslims worldwide. It is also a source of joy when non-Muslims make an effort to share this month with us by attending an “Iftar” gathering like this one. No one can doubt the fact that 9/11 has had a huge negative impact on the perception of Islam in America. But whatever the instruments of terror wanted to accomplish, people like Chief Robert Davis are successfully throwing into the dustbin with their outreach effort. And with all the reports going around about FBI visits and midnight knocks by Homeland Security and the questioning of Muslims in this country (one can almost be sure that representatives of these organizations were present at this gathering), a final comment: With a few more people like Chief Davis in our midst, the security apparatus in this country will not need to contact the Muslim community for leads. The Muslim community will be contacting them.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.