Ramadan at the California State Capitol
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Azan and namaz at the California State Capitol in Sacramento
Sacramento, CA: At about the same time when President Barack Obama was closing the Muslim Ramadan Iftar (breaking of the fast) dinner which he hosted in Washington, DC on Tuesday, September 1, 2009, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of California was just starting its Sixth Capitol Ramadan Iftar event in the basement Rotunda of this historic building which seats California’s State Government.
And since this reporter was not as privileged to attend the Washington gathering, one can only add here that it was certainly an honor to be a part of this Sacramento, California event co-hosted by Governor Schwarzenegger, Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Speaker Karen Bass, Assm. Dave Jones and 34 other legislators (a complete list would be just too long to include in this report).
Several California State Senators and Assembly members were present within the approximately 200 people of various faiths gathered here to witness first the recitation from the Holy Qur’an (and later prayers and Iftar). Najme Minhaj, President of the local CAIR Chapter, took the opportunity to welcome everyone. Najme expressed the joy that he felt in the presence of so may (non-Muslim) friends and explained the significance of Ramadan for over one billion Muslims worldwide. He also shared CAIR’s vision of inclusive Islam in America.
Glimpses of the Iftar Party at the California State Capitol on Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Imam Azeez from the Sacramento SALAM mosque next gave an inspirational talk on Ramadan’s significance and how best to earn God’s compassion. He said that being compassionate to others that inhabit the earth (including people of all religions) and the avoidance of arrogance, including arrogance within religion, will certainly earn God’s forgiveness.
The Reverend Dr. David Thompson of the local Northminster Presbyterian Church Service next addressed the gathering saying that both Islam and Christianity teach compassion and their followers practice it, but it is the 1% of the faith that cause all the trouble. He said that events like this one are important and need to be supported.
Tahra M. Goraya, District Director from Senator Carol Liu’s office in Glendale next shared some of her own thoughts about identity and growing up as a child of Pakistani immigrant parents in Sacramento. She said that Ramadan gives one an opportunity to stop and think about what one is doing. She described that month as an opportunity to do a “quiet little recharge”.
Assembly Member Dave Jones (who incidentally was amongst those that sent out Ramadan greetings again this year) next spoke about how blessed we are in Sacramento with Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. all well represented here. ‘What we have here is very special,” he said. But he cautioned that this did not come easily as hate crimes have occurred in the area with past attacks on a synagogue being a vivid example.
A number of others dignitaries also spoke on the occasion, some of whom shortened their talk because the time for breaking the fast was approaching and they themselves were fasting in solidarity with their Muslim friends (Thanks Assemblymember Mariko Yamada and Betty Yee from the Board of Equalization). Betty Yee started off with the presentation of Resolutions (and words of praise for CAIR Sacramento’s Executive Director, Basim Elkarra), and Assembly member Dave Jones came back to present the Joint Resolution to Najme Minhaj for honoring Ramadan and Muslims signed by 36 members from the State Assembly and Senate. He ended his presentation with “Ramadan Mubarak”.
CAIR Sacramento Valley ’s Executive Director Basim Elkarra added his words of wisdom as to why this event kept growing in size every year (It must be our Arabic, Persian and Pakistani food)? He also recognized a long list of organizations and people present, including names such as the Jewish Voice For Peace and Asian organizations APAPA and CAPITAL along with the JACL. Imam Azeez ended the presentations with a concluding prayer.
Speaking of prayers, the call to worshippers or Azan was once again heard at the State Capitol as the breaking of the fast and evening prayer was observed. Pakistani food, this time from Sacramento’s SHAZ Restaurant, was served to the delight of both the people who had fasted and the observers from other faiths who had not.
In conclusion, we know that such community activity promotes inclusiveness, increases understanding between people, and it certainly makes America a great place to live. A day or two following this event, this reporter received a news release from Senator Darrell Steinberg’s office that the University of California’s Campus Dining has now initiated (to-go) meal options for fasting Muslim students at its campuses, further evidence of how Islam has become a part of America. So “Ramadan Mubarak” from us here in Sacramento , California and we hope that everyone is getting ready for a great Eid day to celebrate the end of the holy month.