CAIR Sacramento Valley Holds Annual Banquet
By Ras H. Siddiqui

Glimpses of the CAIR Sacramento Valley Annual Banquet at the Doubletree Hotel in California’s capital city on Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)-Sacramento Valley Chapter held its 7 th Annual Banquet at the Doubletree Hotel in California’s capital city on Saturday, November 21, 2009 .

With several hundred people of different backgrounds in attendance at this sold out event, CAIR once again demonstrated that its local outreach work has been successful and that civil rights of all Americans are as important to its work as are the rights of American Muslims, a group that it has focused on and one that has needed the most assistance in post- 9/11 America. In other words the CAIR organization has asked for fair and not preferential rights for people of the Islamic faith in the United States , rights that are already enshrined in our Constitution as equal citizens of this country.

The evening began with an invocation. Emcees Ameena Mirza Qazi from CAIR-LA and Basim Elkarra of CAIR Sacramento Valley (SV) shared the stage that evening as President of the local chapter Dr. Najme Minhaj welcomed everyone and explained the purpose for the event, including the all-important fundraising segment.

The theme for the night was “A New Era of Hope Our Role Our Future” for the American Muslim community, a topic well represented in the person of Congressman Keith Ellison who addressed the gathering with a special video message. “Be a part of the solution,” he said, while encouraging Muslims to engage in the political process. “Don’t back down,” he added. He also said that there were wide open opportunities to make friends out there that Muslims should not ignore in this country.

The Hon. Mariko Yamada, Member California State Assembly next addressed the gathering and stressed that strong leadership is needed in the worst of times. She also pledged to stand with the community and made a commitment to continue to work with it.

An awards segment followed during which CAIR -SV chose to honor individuals and groups that best represent our community’s aspirations and hand of friendship. A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to UC Davis Chancellor Emeritus Larry Vanderhoef for his long years of association with the Sacramento area Muslim and South-Asian community. “I am very honored,” said the Chancellor on receiving the award. “It means a lot to me,” he added.

From within the Muslim community, Mr. Javed Iqbal was honored with a Distinguished Service Award, one that this reporter can also vouch for. Javed has been instrumental in many areas locally, as a founding member of CAIR-SV and is currently spearheading the building of the SALAM Mosque, a project that is coming along quite well. On receiving the award, Javed thanked all the other people who have worked on projects with him for their success. He also asked everyone to support CAIR with both their heart and their pocketbook. Mr. Iqbal certainly deserved the ovation that he received.

Group recognition was next with the Asian Law Caucus receiving CAIR’s Courage and Inspiration Award. Since the 2005 “Know Your Rights Forum” the Muslim community and the Asia Law Caucus have worked together and have stood together to  protect the rights of all Americans.

Last but not the least, the Outstanding Youth Service Award this year was presented to Sarah Moussa in recognition of her activism and leadership in service to the Sacramento Muslim community. Sarah was instrumental in the success of this year’s Muslim Youth Leadership Program (MYLP) at the State Capitol.

Basim Elkarra next recognized several distinguished guests and sponsors before a video presentation on the work done by the local CAIR Chapter was shown. These are indeed challenging times for American Muslims and they often need both media and community representation, a role that CAIR has taken up successfully, especially in the Sacramento area. But amongst the challenges there have also been opportunities. The Muslim Youth Leadership Program is one such opportunity. 

The fundraising part of the evening was conducted under the inspiring presence of Sheikh Alauddin El-Bakri from the Saratoga Masjid. The Sheikh eloquently furnished answers to oft asked questions: Who is a Muslim, what is Islam? He spoke of the oneness of God, praying, fasting, charity and Hajj and the belief in one God. He spoke of the spiritual side of the Islamic religion which does not teach violence to people. He spoke of feeding the hungry, standing for education, morals and manners. “A Muslim stands for justice,” he said.  He informed that the first Muslims who came to America were slaves who were brought here against their will. “Now we have a Black president,” he said. And who knew about 20 years from now?  That is where CAIR came in and the fundraising got off to a lively start.

The last speaker was Abdi Soltani, who in his keynote speech inspired many listeners. Mr. Soltani is the new Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC). He has worn many hats since his graduation from Stanford and had been a member of ACLU for several years before taking over his current position. Of Iranian heritage, Soltani spoke of his personal journey, both physically and culturally, to the United States and of the special people who have helped to shape his life as a Muslim, Iranian and a proud American. He said that the ACLU is often misunderstood. “We defend all people’s rights,” said Soltani. He spoke about the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights which are defended by the ACLU in its work. He said that during war and crises, freedoms in this country have been impacted, giving the example of the Japanese American experience during the 1940’s. He said that President Obama has tried to change the perception about Muslims in this country and that his administration has been sympathetic to immigrants. He concluded his speech by saying that the ACLU is honored to work with CAIR .

A couple of other speakers also spoke. The first was from the upcoming 2010 Census and the second from the progressive wing of the California Democratic Party.

Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez from the SALAM Mosque who has just won the 2009 FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award closed the event with special prayers of hope.

Close to $90,000 were raised for the local CAIR Chapter and its work during the evening.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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