CAIR-LA 15th Anniversary Gala a Success
Anaheim, CA: About 2,150 people turned out for the Council on American-Islamic Relations Greater Los Angeles Area (CAIR-LA) 15th Anniversary Gala on Saturday. Another 400 people watched the event's live video stream.
The event helped raise about $410,000 to support CAIR-LA's civil rights and advocacy work.
Comedian and actor Aasif Mandvi was presented with the "Courage in Media" award. In a speech interspersed with wit and humor, Mandvi encouraged everyone to challenge misperceptions about American Muslims and engage in bridge-building.
Composer and pianist Malek Jandali was presented with the "Freedom in Expression" award for composing a song entitled "Watani Ana" in support of democratic movements around the world. After receiving the award, Jandali thanked his parents - who suffered abuse at the hands of Syrian security forces for Jandali's advocacy of freedom and democracy - and hosted a moment of silence for the people of Syria.
Also in the evening, Executive Director Hussam Ayloush expounded on the vision for creating CAIR-LA and the Muslim community's support of it.
"It is not just about our image, it is not just about tolerance and respect of Islam," Ayloush said. "We have proudly matured into a community that clearly sees its place carrying the torch of justice and advocacy with other communities that have struggled..."
Ayloush observed, “ … I want us to think about the Arab Spring. I want to remember the sacrifices of the thousands of heroes in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and Libya and other places who gave their lives to break free from 40 and 50 years of tyrannical dictatorships where the citizens had no freedoms, and were deprived of democracy, of the right to speak, the freedom to organize and choose their government. They were deprived of their dignity and human rights. It is so inspiring to see people on the streets demanding those basic human rights. They leave home not knowing if they will make it back alive.
“If there’s one thing we have learned from those Arab revolutions for freedom and justice, it’s that change is possible. Change is the destiny of those who seek it. Change is the result of people believing in that change and each being part of that change, not just collectively but as individuals. We saw them in the streets of Tunis, in Cairo, in Tahrir Square – old and young, men and women, rich and poor. We saw them in Libya. We still see them in Homs, Daraa, Deir-e-zor, Idlib, Hama, Damascus, in San’aa, Ta’iz, Manama and many other cities, we see them marching for that change and for that freedom.
“And now we see them in the streets of New York, Oakland, LA, many other cities in America, demanding an end to economic greed and inequality, social injustice, economic injustice, and political corruption.
“The point is that we are the change we seek. We know from the Qur’an that Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves. I have seen the change, so it is not a theory. I’m not selling you dreams, I’m selling you a product that you’ve helped produce and have enjoyed its results.
“I’m not trying to tell you that there is a possibility for things to happen. Things ARE happening. We are in the middle of it. You started it -- 15 years ago you joined us on this journey.
“We stood up together to say no one has the right to misspeak on our behalf, to choose how to define us and where to place us. We speak for ourselves, we define ourselves, and we find our own place in America’s political map, social fabric.
“We started with what seemed to be the small cases; the right to practice our religion, the right to wear hijab, to pray at work, to not be harassed, and the right not to be demonized in movies. Yes, these were small victories, but it is these that build our confidence, that train us to organize, that empower us to see ourselves as activists, as people with rights as well as responsibilities. As a community that needs allies and partners. As people who believe that with faith and action we can bring results.
“Over the years CAIR and the Muslim community in Southern California and all of America have become a leading respected voice not only on matters that relate to Islam and Muslims, but on all issues of justice and civil rights for everyone.
“Just in the last few months we’ve seen growing Islamophobia in the media and public places, plans to promote anti-Sharia laws in 23 states, opposition to the building of mosques in about 30 cities, the use of Islam-bashing by politicians to gain votes, bullying against Muslim students, and civil rights abuses by various law enforcement and government agencies. CAIR is at the forefront in challenging all this through lawsuits, media, legislation, and coalition building with interfaith and civil rights partners…”
Imam Siraj Wahhaj, religious director of At-Taqwa Mosque in New York, inspired American Muslims to continue to support civil rights advocacy work.
Remarks were also delivered by US Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-47), Congresswoman Laura Richardson (D-37).