Ramadan Iftar at the California State Capitol
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Muslims in California are not all new arrivals. Some families in the Sacramento, California area can trace their roots here to over a hundred years when South Asians first came to settle in this rich agricultural area.
What is relatively more recent is the presence of Muslims in California’s political arena as larger numbers of immigrant followers of Islam now call America their home and many amongst them have gravitated to our beautiful State of California. And like any other immigrants their first priority was establishing their family, attaining financial security here and building Mosques. Politics was once something to avoid as many considered it a waste of time and resources. But major events like 9/11 changed everything. Muslim Civil Rights became a major issue and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) took up the challenge nationally and CAIR-California with its branches in the State’s major metropolitan areas became a very active component.
Continuing this political and social maturity, CAIR-CA hosted its 12 th Annual Ramadan Iftar (breaking of the fast) at the California State Capitol building on July 1, 2015 with over 200 people in attendance, including elected officials, inter-faith leaders, Muslims from all walks of life and members of other ethnic minority communities. “This year's Capitol Ramadan Iftar was co-hosted by more than 55 assembly members and senators who also co-authored a member resolution, presented by Senator Richard Pan, congratulating the American Muslim community on commencing Ramadan and also for its contributions to the fabric of the state of California,” said a CAIR-Sacramento Valley communication.
The evening started off with a Social Hour during which a number of elected representatives interacted with the Muslim community. Federal Congressman Ami Bera was there as were some of the co-hosts or their representatives. Some like Bera could not stay for the later formalities, which began when CAIR-San Francisco Bay Area Government Relations Consultant Sameena Usman called everyone’s attention. Tulaib Zafir next delivered a fine recitation from the Holy Qur’an which was followed by its English translation by CAIR’s local Programs and Development Coordinator Maheen Ahmed.
CAIR-Sacramento Valley President T. Sami Siddiqui officially welcomed everyone to this 12 th Annual Capitol Iftar. He said that this event is about celebrating the month of Ramadan with friends and family. He elaborated on the significance of the month and its focus on both spiritual and community needs (like charity) which close to a million Muslims in California and 1.5 billion members of the faith observe in the world today. He also explained the breaking of the Ramadan fast or Iftar, and how the tradition started here at the Capitol. He also mentioned a number of names of elected officials who had led or encouraged this event in the past, including Mariko Yamada (who is running for State Senate) and Roger Dickenson. He added that the torch had been passed on and that State Senator Richard Pan was our new host here along with a number of others. He thanked them all for their efforts in making this event possible.
Next Dr Hatem Bazian from UC Berkeley and the Zaytuna College delivered a short keynote. He first congratulated CAIR for continuing to hold this Iftar event and for building bridges with the wider community and for offering us religious, political and civil rights leadership. He said that this has made it possible for Muslims to have a place here in the Capitol to address the needs of the community. He focused a part of his talk on Taqwa, the way to reach righteousness or to attain God consciousness. He said that fasting was about restraining ourselves, to have a light carbon footprint on this earth! He added that in a way our (excess) consumption is what makes it possible for the poor to be hungry. He said that right here in America we waste billions of dollars’ worth of food, and with a lot less money we could address world hunger. He added that for him Ramadan is about reducing our consumption. He also said part of Ramadan is also about relating to other human beings. He explained that we need to keep in mind what took place in Charleston, the recent African-American Churches torched, and about the suffering of people here in America and across the globe. He said that we need to ask ourselves if we are good custodians of this world. He added that we need to think of every human being as a relative of ours and that no person should be discriminated against. He thanked everyone for breaking bread with us here during Ramadan which is one of the most fundamental things that human beings undertake.
Former US Congressman Wally Herger was a surprise guest at this Iftar and he was invited to speak by CAIR- Sacramento Executive Director Basim Elkarra. A staunch Republican, Herger thanked CAIR for inviting him to help honor this holy time of the year (Ramadan). He stressed the importance of the working together of all faiths, regardless of what we believe individually, and that this was important in this great nation of ours, where freedom of religion is a protected right in our constitution. He said that many people came to this country so that they could practice their faith the way that they wanted to.
Haroon Manjlai, Public Affairs Coordinator from CAIR’s Los Angeles Area Chapter, next introduced “Senator of the Vaccines” and our main host for the day Senator Dr Richard Pan. The good Doctor received this introduction because of his authorship of a vaccine bill (SB277) which recently became law after Governor Brown’s signature. Dr Pan thanked CAIR for putting together this Iftar and for bringing together various leaders and elected officials during this time-honored holy month of Ramadan. He said that Ramadan is a time of contemplation, worship and also a time to strengthen family and community ties. He said that he appreciated the opening prayers and the previous speakers because we are all gathered here together of different faiths. He added that this is really a month of inner reflection which is very important; something that we can all learn from no matter what our faith. Dr Pan also presented a resolution that he and his co-hosts authored recognizing this wonderful event to the CAIR-CA team.
California State Controller Betty Yee also spoke. Not only was she present to support the Ramadan Iftar but she was fasting too, and that in itself deserves our deep appreciation. Betty has been a part of many Muslim community events over the years in Sacramento and is always welcome throughout Sacramento’s diversity.
US Marine and Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association (APAPA) Board Member Jacob Harrer also took the opportunity to express his support and spoke of the need for greater inter-faith understanding while sharing some of his that he had learned from his deployment in Afghanistan. Basim Elkarra next took the opportunity to introduce all local leaders and dignitaries present and the list was long! He also thanked the Sharif family for sponsoring the Iftar. T. Sami Siddiqui also took the opportunity to recognize and thank all CAIR-CA Board Members and volunteers for making the event a success.
The closing dua (prayer) was presented by Imam Luqman Ahmad of the Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center of Sacramento. Imam Luqman elaborated on the purpose of Ramadan and the attainment of Taqwa. He said that we are blessed in this country because we can come together in peace and break bread, away from a troubled world. He asked everyone to join him in a prayer to express gratitude, and to thank God for his mercy.
The formalities ended with a call to prayer or Adhan by Dr Khalid Sayedi which signaled the breaking of the fast with dates and water. A fine Mediterranean dinner awaited everyone as observant Muslims joined their guests later after prayers. Ramadan Mubarak once again from the California State Capitol building!