Professor John Esposito at SALAMS’s Spring Banquet
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims (SALAM) held its Spring Banquet and fundraiser at the Citrus Heights Community Center on Saturday, May 4 th. SALAM’s events are usually high profile but this time some of their own benchmarks were surpassed as a few members of the “Who’s Who” of Sacramento’s political and media groups were in attendance including Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones along with Edie Lambert and Stephen Magagnini. Other big attractions for many in attendance were the keynote speaker, Professor John Esposito from Georgetown University and comedian Dean Obeidallah.
Emcee for the evening Asif Haq started the event with confidence. “It is going to be a memorable evening,” he said. Adnan Syed presented the opening Qur’anic recitation followed by its English translation by Muzhda Ferouz. A short welcome address by SALAM Board chairman Farrukh Saeed briefly mentioned some details of the Masjid project, its funding challenges and the services that the organization currently offers to the community including its regular and weekend schools, Friday family night, matrimonial services, etc. Incidentally Farrukh recently received the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award on behalf of SALAM, another good reflection on the Sacramento Muslim community.
SALAM’s Executive Director Dr Metwalli Amer next took the opportunity to introduce Professor John Esposito and invited him to the stage. One of the foremost public intellectuals (he is an expert on religions) in America today, Dr Esposito’s appearance and talk here at SALAM, to which he returned after a 15-year gap, was greatly anticipated. He started off by saying, “Much of what you are doing needs to be duplicated.” He said that the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, which included the murder and maiming of innocent civilians, horrified our nation and was denounced by all Americans, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. He added that every major Muslim organization condemned this act but still regrettably, it unleashed anti-Islam and anti-Muslim Islamophobes and organizations, including far right media commentators on Fox television, and self-serving politicians like Rep. Peter King.
On the current state of American Muslims, he said that “after Jews, Muslims are the most educated religious community in the US. Muslim women (unlike their Jewish counterparts) are as likely as their male counterparts to have a college degree or higher. 40% of women have a college degree as compared to 29% of Americans overall.” He added that “American Muslims are more optimistic about their future than the average US population.” But everything has not been great in the post-9/11 period. American Muslims have experienced and are concerned about the impact of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim attitudes and behavior.
Dr Esposito shared statistical data, the results of polls, to reflect on the mainstream’s attitude towards Muslims and Islam. “Failure to distinguish between the actions of religious extremists and terrorists and the vast majority of Muslims and their faith has reinforced a belief in the collective guilt of American Muslims and their faith,” he said. He added that by compromising Muslim freedoms and civil liberties – the rights of American Muslim citizens and of Muslim organizations - threatens the very fabric of American democracy itself. “In the words of Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s most prominent Founding Fathers: “He who sacrifices freedom for security is neither free nor secure.” (Certainly words to ponder over in America today).
Professor Esposito had some advice for the American Muslim community and encouraged young people to seek careers in government, the media and education. Space constraints here limit what else he suggested but this writer would add that the Muslim community itself has unfortunately made it a habit not to encourage its own media, especially in the past decade where it needed the most help.
After the keynote speech, local luminary Rashid Ahmad, a retired State of California Civil Engineer, was presented the SALAM Distinguished Award for his many years of service to the local Muslim and Pakistani community. Rashid Sahib has certainly been a bridge builder between faiths in the Sacramento area. He helped in the establishment of the UC Davis Medical School’s Shifa Medical Clinic for the disadvantaged needing healthcare. He is also one of the founders of the CAIR Sacramento Valley. In his speech he thanked the local dignitaries present in the gathering and members of the mainstream media.
Farrukh Saeed returned to share SALAM’s fiscal situation. The formal fundraising segment of the evening began next as SALAM’s very own Imam Azeez made the call for generosity with a little help from guests and volunteers. Over $175,000 was collected by the time dinner was served and comedian Dean Obeidallah appeared on the stage.
Dean is a very funny man, inventing new sayings like LMHO (Laughing My Hijab Off). He has been a member of comedy Central’s “Axis of Evil” group and has recently been working on a documentary with Negin Farsad titled “The Muslims Are Coming” ( http://themuslimsarecoming.com/ ) which he described as 95% Halal and 5% Haram. His witty one-liners really make you think before you laugh (or was it the other way around?). “My fiancé is Palestinian, she is from the West Bank,” he said. “I got her on eBay.” On the possibility of having a Muslim President and its challenges: “Please Meet my First Lady, my Second Lady, my Third Lady….etc.”
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