CAIR-Sacramento Valley Annual Banquet Draws Attention to Rights & Faith
By Ras H. Siddiqui

The Sacramento Valley Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) held its 11 th Annual Banquet and fundraiser at the McClellan Convention Center on Saturday, November 23 rd drawing close to 1000 people. This year’s theme of “Faith in Freedom” resonated well within all age groups and faiths present as the lineup of speakers was impressive and the message conveyed stressed American inclusion while practicing our faith. But one has to admit that listening to Mark Gonzales, Glenn Greenwald, Wajahat Ali and Mehdi Hasan all in the same evening can be a bit challenging from the idea-absorption point of view, though one has come to expect such an information overload from the largest annual event of its kind in Sacramento.

The evening started with a recitation from the Holy Qur’an by Shaykh Refaat followed by its English translation by Mohamed Ali. CAIR Sacramento Valley President Wazhma Mojaddidi next welcomed everyone and highlighted the important work that CAIR has been doing to protect the civil liberties of all Americans while concentrating on the challenges faced by Muslims in particular. “CAIR will stand up,” she said, and asked everyone to show their support by standing up. She said that if your teenage daughter is bullied at school, if a sister is told to take off her scarf to keep her job, when your relative is placed on a “No Fly List” for having a Muslim name similar to someone else, when an Imam at a local Mosque is questioned, when any minority community is hit with a hate crime, “CAIR will stand up.” She added that the stronger the attack, the taller CAIR will stand, to protect our rights.

While dinner was about to be served California Assemblyman Ken Cooley offered his words of encouragement (great tie Ken, it was certainly a Red, White and Blue evening). Ken focused on the word “indivisible” in our American Pledge of Allegiance, a very profound thought for the evening since CAIR itself continues to pursue “Liberty and Justice for All”.

A video of Mehdi Hasan’s speech at the Oxford Union was played as dinner continued and CAIR’s Fawzia Keval and Executive Director Basim Elkarra came to the stage to continue the program, announcing the names of the elected officials present plus the sponsors who made this event possible. Dignitaries on stage included Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada who conducted that segment and offered her support. Unfortunately it is not possible to name all of them or even the entire CAIR-Sacramento Valley team here, but we know who you are.

The Awards ceremony was next, presented by Wazhma Mojaddidi and Basim Elkarra and introduced by our first elected Muslim UC Regent Sadia Saifuddin, Phil Pasquini from the WRMEA and Gulshan Yousafzai from the MAS Social Services Foundation respectively. The recipient of this year’s CAIR Outstanding Youth Service Award was Ossama Kamel, the Fairness and Integrity Award went to journalist Ras Siddiqui and the Distinguished Service Award to the Ar-Razzaq Food Bank (Durriya Syed and Suzana Malik were there to accept).

On stage next was activist, playwright and now Aljazeera TV personality Wajahat Ali who is no stranger to us here in northern California. His award-winning play The Domestic Crusaders started him off and he has not stopped since. This writer has been reading his articles for years (his website is named with a goat in mind) and can vouch for the fact that he is possibly the most entertaining writer which our community has produced thus far. Wajahat is currently co-host of Al Jazeera America’s daily talk show, THE STREAM. He was honored last year as one of three Generation Change Leaders by then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. This was a return visit for him to CAIR-Sacramento’s annual event and this time he was accompanied by his wife Sarah (late congratulations are in order to both). Another fact about Wajahat is that in spite of being a serious long-time Muslim community activist, he has retained his sense of humor.

Wajahat invited social entrepreneur, impact speaker, poet and Chicano Muslim Mark Gonzales to speak next. Mark stressed the need to wage beauty in times of terror. “We are a beautiful community with a wealth of culture,” he said. He added that there is beauty in our (Muslim) lives and traditions as he quoted from the Persian poet Hafiz, beautifully combining art, literature, history and the common quest for freedom which we all share.

Next, a very interesting video address by political commentator, lawyer and columnist Glenn Greenwald cautioned everyone that the loss of civil liberties of American Muslims will also impact the rights of all other Americans. He commended CAIR for defending our constitution and for upholding the rights of all communities in the process.

Keynote speaker Mehdi Hasan from the UK was next introduced by Wajahat Ali as “The savior of Islam on YouTube”. If any of the readers here are not familiar with Mehdi Hasan’s work they could benefit from watching ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jy9tNyp03M0 ( Preview )

) in which he argues that Islam is indeed a peaceful Religion at the Oxford Union. This clip already has over one million views and is highly recommended.

Mehdi is currently a Political Director at the Huffington Post UK. He has recently been included in a list of 100 “most influential” Britons on Twitter and has won the “Media Personality of the Year” award at the 2013 Asian Media Awards. He also presents the “Head To Head” and “The Café” programs on Al Jazeera English. And in Sacramento for the first time as a keynote speaker (Thank you CAIR for bringing him here first), Hasan delivered one of the finest speeches on Islam’s relationship with the West this writer has ever heard. Focusing on the United States where he said that Muslims did not have to deal with the old colonial mindsets like many other countries, he shared the fact that it was Thomas Jefferson who held the first official Iftar dinner in this country and that the overlap present between Islamic principles and the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights could not be ignored. He said that US Muslims were the most integrated and modern members of the religion and that being citizens in a democracy certainly helps. Due to space constraints here one cannot go into the details of his amazing keynote but The core message to Muslims was that you belong here and need to become positive contributors to where you live in spite of difficulties you have faced.

Since no organization, especially one as active as CAIR can function without resources, a fundraising segment conducted by Basim Elkarra followed. Here Basim was aided by Zahra Billoo from the CAIR-San Francisco Bay Area Chapter and Mehdi Hasan also pitched in. A conversation between Wajahat Ali and Mehdi Hasan followed with concluding remarks and a Dua (prayer) by Imam M.A. Azeez closed the event.

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