Keith Ellison Addresses 10 th Annual Banquet of CAIR-Sacramento Valley
By Ras H. Siddiqui

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Sacramento Valley Chapter held its 10 th Annual Banquet and fundraiser on Sunday, December 2 nd at the Sacramento State University Union Ballroom.  At this sold out event some of the “Who’s who” of Sacramento’s diverse ethnic and religious community were present to show support for both CAIR and the area Muslim community which has made it its goal to reach out to the mainstream.

The success of this effort would not have been possible without friends (too numerous to name here) in Sacramento who stood by Muslims after the horrific day of 9/11/2001. The list fortunately included local law enforcement, a welcome fact that just cannot be overlooked.

 This year’s theme for the CAIR-SV event was “Upholding our Constitution Defending our Faith,” a dual dilemma for America as a whole and the Muslim community in particular since the day that the Twin Towers in New York were attacked. What fell with the Towers was trust of our community and removed was the cocoon which we had built as economic success stories in this country. All of a sudden we were all playing defense. And while we were defending our religion, the state apparatus had to react too. And with it grew the danger of innocent people being rounded up in pursuit of the bad guys. That is where the CAIR organization nationally has had to play a major role and that is what CAIR-California and its Sacramento Valley Chapter did so well. With a great deal of outreach and reciprocity from our many new friends in the mainstream, ethnic and inter-faith communities a watchful eye on constitutional protections was kept. It was not a perfect outcome but the relationship is still developing.

The formal event began with a wonderful invocation in Arabic by Shaykh Refaat, translated into English by Mohamed Ali. Welcoming the gathering CAIR-SV President Wazma Mojaddidi asked, “As a Muslim in this country, who is speaking out for me?” She said that when you want your rights upheld, it is CAIR that you can trust. “And as long as you support us, we will not give up the fight,” she added. “When you look into our future, please be inspired by our past.”

Dinner and the CAIR-SV Awards Ceremony followed. The first of the awards given out at the event was the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by California State Assembly member Roger Dickenson to area luminary Rashid Ahmad who humbly accepted the recognition for his many years of efforts on behalf of local Muslims.  Next, the Courage and Inspiration Award to Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada was presented by Betty Yee from the State Board of Equalization. Assemblywoman Yamada is the daughter of a family interned at a facility during WWII, proof that America has come a long way since those days when Japanese Americans had to suffer a grave injustice.

Imam Azeez of the Sacramento SALAM Mosque presented the CAIR Distinguished Service Award to the Muslim American Society-Social Services Foundation. SMUD Representative Sam Starks presented the Fairness and Integrity in Media Award to Scott Syphax from the KVIE, Studio Sacramento. Closing the segment, CAIR’s own Saeeda Islam presented the Outstanding Youth Service Award to Feriel Chebouli and Maheen Ahmed, two very deserving young ladies.

After a short Nasheed presentation by a group of lively area children a video presentation of the important work that this organization has been doing was shown. This preceded CAIR-SV Executive Director Basim Elkarra’s organizational report during which he thanked many people, especially those leaders who had helped the local chapter getting where it is today. Basim also highlighted the event sponsors and the many dignitaries present including representatives from the area interfaith and ethnic communities (the Sikh community was mentioned in particular for being a target of hate crimes since 9/11).  The officers and founders of CAIR-Sacramento Valley were also called up to the stage and recognized.

Setting the tone for the fundraising segment Wazma Mojaddidi came back to the stage to share a factual situation where a Muslim lady was erroneously placed on a “No Fly List” for what a policeman thought she said (while saying something completely different) and yes, the “informant” who might have been in a hurry to deliver something or anything and may have thrown accuracy out of the window. But if that information prevents someone from going to the Hajj pilgrimage what do you do? CAIR was contacted by the lady in question and it was able to contact the local FBI office at a late hour to explain the situation and offer a clarification so that she could make the trip. Without CAIR’s help and the FBI’s cooperation, her Hajj trip may not have been possible. 

Imam Siraj Wahaj is no stranger to the Muslim community in the United States. As Religious Director of Al-Taqwa Mosque in New York and leader of Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA) he has become a national figure and has assisted in many fundraisings. Here in Sacramento he used his keynote speech and persuasive skills to encourage attendees to fund CAIR-SV’s future efforts. He took everyone back to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in America, the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and the “Bloody Sunday” of March 7, 1965 during which black people were beaten up (one was killed) for demanding their rights. He also focused on the Treaty of Hudaibiya made by the Prophet (PBUH) where a perceived defeat actually turned into a victory for all. Imam Siraj added that what you can give to CAIR tonight is actually for your children and grandchildren (and their rights as Americans).

Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota’s 5 th Congressional District delivered the final keynote. He holds the distinction of taking his oath of office on the Holy Qur’an once owned by Thomas Jefferson and he is the first Muslim-American elected to Congress. He started his speech with the traditional Muslim greeting and thanked everyone for coming and donating here. He also praised CAIR-SV officials and Imam Siraj Wahaj. He said that investing in this wonderful organization (CAIR) is important.  He added that it is good for our community to get together to build Masjids but it is also important to look beyond because ultimately it is about us. He said that he gets reports and has shared some stories on Islamophobia, of people being offloaded from planes for their practices and seeking their constitutional rights in this country with some suing for damages and winning. “It is about the people,” he said.

 He praised the CAIR Youth Development Program and said that ultimately it is about that one kid who is inspired enough by such an effort to occupy one of the chairs in the California State Assembly. He said that CAIR Washington DC was once infiltrated by someone who could come up with nothing except that CAIR had an internship program. He said that some did not give up and said that they were planting spies.  He said that a letter was written by Michele Bachmann about Huma Abedin being a plant of the Muslim Brotherhood amongst others. Congressman Ellison wrote her a letter back asking her to prove it. He said that he got a 16-page reply “full of absolute nonsense”. He said that Huma Abedin is a person with powerful connections in Washington. He asked, “But what about a junior staffer who happens to be a Muslim working in the Department of Agriculture?” It is about the individual single cases that CAIR stands up for every day, he added.  The Congressman also focused on the plight of Mrs Talat Hamdani whose son tried to help and died in the 9/11 rescue effort, but instead came under suspicion because he was a Muslim, even though he laid down his life for his fellow Americans.  

Space constraints limit more of what Congressman Keith Ellison said during his speech. He did say that things would not get better by themselves and that CAIR as an organization is leading by example and deserves community support. Foreign policy issues were also addressed including the plight of the Palestinian people and their future peace with Israel. CAIR-California Chairman Masoud Nassimi’s remarks and a raffle closed the program. Congratulations are in order to CAIR-SV and all its volunteers for holding this hugely successful event.  


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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