A Meeting of Faiths at SALAM Iftar
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims (SALAM) held its annual Interfaith Iftar at the organization’s Community Center and Mosque on Wednesday, July 8 th with a reminder that our faiths may be different but our planet is one and needs our attention.
With the venue packed to capacity, the one thing that immediately stood out was that the Muslims present here were a small minority (around 20%) while the people of other faiths outnumbered them considerably. SALAM and the individual event sponsors (Dr Ayad Al-Qazzaz, Javed Iqbal, Javed Siddiqui, Kais Menoufy, Metwalli and Rosalie Amer, Osama Hassoun and Sharif Jewelers Family) deserve full credit for having the foresight to invite the wider community to expand their knowledge of the religion of Islam beyond Muslims themselves. And what better way could there be to explain Ramadan to people of other faiths than to share the breaking of the fast with them?
After a period of socializing, the formalities began when emcee for the evening, Bob Martinez, called everyone’s attention and invited two young people for the customary Qur’an recitation and its translation. Dr Anne Kjemtrup, Chairperson , SALAM Board of Trustees next addressed the gathering with her official words of welcome. She highlighted the attributes of the SALAM organization and reiterated that the doors of this center of learning were open to those who want to understand Islam. Anne also introduced the theme for the evening as an Interfaith Iftar program focusing on “Caring for our Planet - a Ramadan Message”. She also thanked the volunteers present who helped to make this event possible.
After recognizing many of the dignitaries present (local clergy, elected officials and law enforcement) Bob Martinez introduced and invited keynote speaker (from Southern California) Muslim scholar Dr Yahia Abdul-Rahman to the stage. Dr Yahia first briefly spoke of his long-term association with SALAM, from its founding approximately 28 years ago to its role today. He added that he was addressing the people here as brothers, sisters and Americans and then elaborated on his theme for the evening. He called it “Islam, the Green Way of Life” and said that the earth was created by God for all of us to enjoy. He added that Islam is also called a religion of nature and that Ramadan is one reflection of that, because overeating and overconsumption do not represent the practices of a true believer. He said that water needs to be kept clean and not polluted and that Islam also teaches us not to hunt needlessly or to cut down forests as trees. Vegetation is looked upon as a source of renewal by God, he said. He added that in an effort to show our collective concerns, we should build a small park for the youth, called Unity Park or Peace Park. He ended his talk with a dua (prayer) of unity, love and respect for one another, to bless this gathering and the food that we eat.
A common humanity and spiritual unity was observed here at this event as Dr Yahia’s call was shared by all as various beliefs merged for a couple of minutes in beautiful and inspiring harmony.
California State Controller Betty Yee and Senator Richard Pan also took the opportunity to address the gathering and an Assembly Resolution was presented to SALAM from District 7, the office of Assemblymember Kevin McCarty. And to present a special recognition to Mahmud Sharif was Assemblymember Jim Cooper from District 9. The Sharif family has done a great deal for the wider Sacramento region and it was about time that Br Mahmud was put in the spotlight for some well-deserved attention!
Next the Adhan (call to prayer) by Tulaib Zafir signaled the breaking of the fast with dates and water or juices. Muslims headed to the beautiful SALAM Mosque adjacent to this venue while their guests were invited to observe them in prayer. And a full dinner was served. One heard a great deal of praise for the roast lamb (and this writer can attest to that)!
But the evening was not over. SALAM’s Distinguished Award this time was presented to the First Covenant Church of Sacramento for their exceptional outreach, friendship and service to the area’s (refugee) Muslim community. Pastor Mark Shetler humbly accepted the award on behalf of his church. And in closing representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), in order of their appearance in history, added their wisdom to the evening. Senior Rabbi Mona Alfi spoke first and elaborated on commonality of the greetings Shalom and Salam, Rev. Alan Jones followed with an emphasis on God’s grace and compassion, and Imam Kashif Ahmed closed on a very spiritual Islamic note.
It was certainly an evening of humanity, grace and positive relationship-building between people of all faiths