CAIR Sacramento Valley 12th Anniversary Banquet Rooted in Faith
Ras H. Siddiqui
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Sacramento Valley Chapter held its 12th Anniversary Banquet at the California State University Sacramento Student Union Ballroom on Saturday, September 6th with the theme “Rooted in Faith: Growing Through Service” while highlighting the fact that the Islamic faith and people in the local community of all faiths are partners.
Throughout its many years of existence CAIR has championed the protection of civil rights of all Americans while educating and defending members of the Muslim community in this country. And it is because of its work which can be best described as “Positive Resistance” that the appreciation of this organization has expanded. Locally this professionalism that the CAIR Sacramento Valley (SV) Chapter has become known for became clear from the onset as one entered the hall.
A recitation from the Holy Qur’an by Imam Aamir Nazir from the Muslim Community of Folsom started the proceedings with a follow-up translation by Imam Haazim Rashid of Masjid As-Sabur, followed by a short welcome address by CAIR-SV President T. Sami Siddiqui, who besides introducing a raffle and silent auction, emphasized that CAIR Sacramento Valley’s accomplishments and its challenges would both be shared this evening. He added that CAIR’s mission includes the empowerment of American Muslims. He added that international events were certainly not helping the billion plus Muslim population of the world who are being judged by the actions of a few thousand extremists. He said that locally CAIR’s attorneys in northern California have addressed employment discrimination, FBI visits and school bullying, just to name a few. He added that since 9/11 there have been numerous controversies related to Mosque building, including six in California. He said that in this environment of challenges organizational goals cannot be achieved without generous donations from our community. “Tonight we want 100% participation,” he said.
Next, a number of dignitaries present were introduced on stage in a “Public Officials Welcome”. One cannot name them all here due to space limitations but one in particular cannot be ignored and that is Assemblymember Mariko Yamada from California’s 4th District who was on her final visit here in this official capacity. “It will not be my last time standing with you,” she said. Mariko has attended all twelve of these CAIR (SV) events and even recalled the first one right after 9/11. She said that people have to stand together and work together, and our constitutional right must be protected. We must always be vigilant, she added. It must be noted here that the Japanese American community has been very supportive of our constitutional rights since 9/11 and for that area Muslims convey a big thank you!
The first keynote address of the evening was by Brooklyn-born Linda Sarsour, Director at the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC). Linda is of Palestinian origin and said that her father left his home because he did not want to raise a family under military occupation in the West Bank. She said that she was a victim of a hate crime in New York and that any of us can be impacted. She added that 13 years after 9/11 it seems that we have not healed as a nation. She added that experience made her a stronger advocate. She said that she was targeted because of the way she looked and for being herself. On school bullying she said, “Parents, please do not tell your children not to stand up for themselves.” She added that if we as a community do not stand up for ourselves then nobody will stand up for us.
CAIR (SV) Executive Director Basim Elkarra next presented an annual report of chapter activities. He said that tonight we were connecting the world and connecting the dots, the connections of the struggle. He said that CAIR was founded 20 years ago and CAIR (SV) about 12 years ago. The organization’s work gets more exciting, more challenging and more rewarding, he said. He spoke of the 400 cases of civil rights taken up in Northern California. He gave a couple of examples of these cases, one about a trip to Hajj and leave from employment which was granted, problems at school, FBI visits, and an issue about being able to wear the hijab at work. In each case, CAIR came to the aid of the individuals impacted, he said. 115 cases were taken locally in the Sacramento area. On ISIS he said that what they have been doing has nothing to do with Islam whatsoever. Basim also took the opportunity to introduce us to future leaders in the making, members of the Muslim Youth Leadership Program.
Special Guest Speaker Dr Altaf Husain currently Vice Chairperson of ISNA shifted the emphasis of the event towards fundraising. And he did it in an amazingly different way, with carefully calibrated doses of humor. No “Hell and Damnation” wording was used. His “Cigarettes in Heaven” joke was a classic. . Performance Artist Rohina Malik from Chicago brought us back to seriousness with her intense delivery against hate crimes (in a very British accent).
Not enough can be said about this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, Shifa Community Clinic. A medical services provider to the underserved and a place for training students, our future doctors, it was started at the Downtown Muslim Mosque in 1994 by two dedicated community physicians. This non-profit has now expanded and has been affiliated with the UC Davis School of Medicine since the year 2005. Dr Najmi Minhaj introduced Shifa on stage and Dr Shagufta Yasmeen was on hand to accept the award on the group’s behalf.
The final Keynote of the evening was delivered by The Honorable Ebrahim Rasool, Ambassador of South Africa in Washington. In a brief chat before the event Ambassador Rasool shared his Dutch, Indian and South-East Asian heritage (he said that his height came from the Dutch side). A long-time activist of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa starting from his High School days, his role rose to him being included in the leadership of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. He spent time in jail and under house arrest during those days. We were lucky indeed to have an associate of the late Nelson Mandela here in our city, proving once again that it does not get much better than this annual CAIR event in Sacramento.
Ambassador Rasool said that we in the world today are looking for answers to persistent problems. The Muslim community is no different than any other community in this world that we live in. We too are searching for answers in a rapidly changing world, he said. He added that we are witnessing horrible things carried out by non-state actors and informal movements and that the actions of formal state bodies have also been questionable. He said that we have to look and find new ways to divide the world. He sadly reflected on the fact that a night like this put together by CAIR which mixes many religions and ethnicities will (unfortunately) not make the mainstream news.
Ambassador Rasool went on to highlight California’s historical role in the fight against Apartheid and commended the efforts of those many Californians who had not seen or met a South African in their lives. Coming back to current events he said that the world today is plagued by inconsistency and that justice needs to be even and equal. He quoted from the Qur’an directing us to the singularity of the human community. He said that we should never take the right away from people to say the right thing. He also commented on the current (ISIS) headlines originating from the Middle East. “Wrong is wrong,” he said. He added that injustice and discrimination need to be fought on all fronts without letting the extremists win, because that is what they are after. He added that events like this one held by CAIR are essential and that Sacramento must show the way, adding that each one of us carries within us a part of the divine. He revisited Nelson Mandela’s simplicity of beliefs in which we have to view each other through the human lens. “This world that we live in is a wonderful place of difference,” he said. “Why do we not see the divine in each other before we see the skin color?” What South Africa teaches us is that we have the right to be the same and the right to be different. In essence, Ambassador Rasool called for embracing diversity and pluralism here.
The evening ended on both a humorous and a reflective note. Raffle winners were announced (prizes included tickets to a Sacramento Kings basketball game), but an odd issue came up when the winner of a trip to Mecca was announced. What do you do when the winner is not a Muslim! A closing Dua or prayer by Imam Azeez ended another memorable CAIR (SV) annual banquet.