SALAM Interfaith Iftar Celebrates a Community United and Honors Japanese-American Friendship
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Sacramento: The Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims (SALAM) held its annual Interfaith Iftar (Ramadan breaking of the fast) at its Community Center on Wednesday, June 22 nd.
The SALAM organization ( http://www.salamcenter.org/ ) has been a trailblazer in interfaith understanding in the Sacramento area for a number of years now and this Iftar remains a true reflection of its work.
Every year during Ramadan, a group of sponsors and SALAM invite members of the local Interfaith, Law Enforcement and Ethnic community along with elected officials to participate in an evening of not just worship but friendship. Visitors here get to see followers of Islam practice their beliefs. And it is important to point out the uniqueness of this Iftar event because Muslims are far outnumbered here by their non-Muslim friends. And it is only here that one would possibly get the opportunity to share a table with the new US Attorney, the Special Agent in Charge of the local FBI office, the President of CSU Sacramento and the US Marshal.
Event emcees Bob Martinez and Dr Anne Kjemtrup started the proceedings which began with the traditional recitation from the Holy Qur’an by Abdulrhaman Senoussi along with a follow-up English translation by Sarah Sherif Hamid. Martinez also proceeded to introduce a number of VIPs in attendance (the list would be too long to include in this one report) while adding that we were all VIP’s. This was just before Dr Kjemtrup introduced the first main speaker for the evening, Imam Kashif Ahmed, the Director of Religious & Social Services at SALAM.
Speaking on the religious aspects and significance of the month of Ramadan, Imam Kashif started off by saying how honored he was to be here. “United we shall make a difference” was the theme for his talk. He said that Ramadan brings together people of all backgrounds, ethnicities and races together on one platform which is “United for the sake of God”. As united as human beings under one umbrella, he said. He added that during the month of Ramadan, Muslims through fasting feel the pain of the less fortunate (the poor and hungry). The month of Ramadan teaches Muslims how to be more kind, bringing them closer and removes any differences that they may have. The month also teaches us to show sympathy to all the creations of God, said Imam Kashif. Reflecting on this gathering he said that people around the world envy our country because of how we are and remain united.
Robert S. Nelsen, the President of California State University, Sacramento (popularly known as Sac State) was the next speaker and he certainly gave an impressive delivery. Nelson first thanked Dr Amer and the SALAM group for the invitation to speak at the iftar dinner. He said that words matter and that they matter a lot. He added that as (CSU, Sacramento President) he was there to help students attend and complete college in four years, but there was a lot more to attending college and getting the degree. It is a sense of community. That sense of being there. He said that he felt proud after looking at the diversity here and that he sees the same diversity at Sac State, but we must be more than diverse, we have to be more tolerant. What happened in Orlando is shocking, hurtful and sad. What we need to prevent that is to have a community that is not just tolerant but a community that embraces each other. He said that his main goal at Sac State was to see that students feel like they belong. “I think that we may have forgotten that we are not America. We are the United States of America,” he said to wide applause. We must come together as a nation. We must come together as Sacramentans. We must come together as all races and religions. We must come together to support each other and be united, said Nelsen.
Local luminary Kais Menoufy in his brief remarks became nostalgic as he shared the Ramadan of his youth in Egypt. He said that he remembered it as being a lot of fun, with fresh baked cookies and singing in the streets at midnight while spending time with family and friends. And speaking of friends, there was one right here in Sacramento that he had come to introduce, Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg, who was invited to the stage to deliver the final evening keynote. Steinberg, who is Jewish, had a lot of Muslims supporting him in his recent election victory and Br Kais Menoufy was certainly one of them.
Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg in his speech best articulated the mindset present here. He thanked Br Kais and the Muslim-American community for hosting this wonderful event. He joked that when you are the last speaker before a fast is about to end, you are probably not in a great position! He said that looking around this room we should never take for granted a multi-cultural Sacramento gathered together in peace and friendship. This does not just happen, he said. It happens because we have together built the bonds of friendship and community in ways which are significant and profound. Let us recognize that we live in a world that is often cruel and terrible, he said. Speaking of Orlando and the horrific nature of that occurrence, he looked back a week, to a prior Sunday event with the LGBT community the day after the tragedy, where leaders of the Muslim-American community came to provide comfort and support to the LGBT community. He said that you (Muslim community) were there even though it was a time of need for you as well. We know what happens when a crazy gunman who happens to be of the Muslim faith (maybe) and commits an act which turns on you. In your moment of need, you showed up to offer comfort to others in need. “Peace-loving people have a lot more in common than the haters. And thank God for that,” said Steinberg.
As we approached closer to the breaking of the fast, the presentation of the SALAM Distinguished Award was made by Dr Metwalli Amer (assisted by Waseem Bawa) recognizing an area Japanese-American organization for their long years of support of the local Muslim community, especially after 9/11. The Florin Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) was represented on stage by the organization’s Co-Presidents Marielle Tsukamoto and Andy Noguchi. One must remember that loyal Japanese-Americans experienced prejudice and internment during the Second World War. They have stood in firm support of our community in its time of need, especially since 9/11. Some of us have known Andy since that terrible day when terrorism reached American shores in 2001 and can vouch for the fact that this SALAM Distinguished Award could not have gone to a better organization. So, thank you Florin-JACL (http://www.florinjacl.com/ ), for upholding our civil rights and the values enshrined in the American Constitution.
Andy Noguchi said that as we look around here at the people tonight one sees an amazing gathering of interfaith leaders, community organizations, local officials and law enforcement, all joined with SALAM and the Muslim community. He said that along with Marielle and the JACL we feel very honored to receive this award and doubly honored to receive it amongst hundreds of interfaith leaders and supporters. He said that after the 9/11 attacks, the forces of bigotry and hatred challenged American values. Suspicion, discrimination, attacks and hate crimes on Muslim Americans followed. Japanese Americans from the older (WWII) generation came forward and said that “It is happening again. They are blaming innocent people just like they blamed us,” he said. He added that during WWII Japanese Americans were put in concentration camps behind barbed wire for over 4 years which left many in ruin. He said that his father was an American soldier fighting for his country while (ironically) his family was locked up behind barbed wire. He risked his life just like many Muslim American soldiers today lay their lives on the line fighting for this country, said Noguchi.
The evening formalities ended with an interfaith prayer for peace co-presented by Methodist Minister Faith Whitmore, Pastor of the River City Christian Church Rev. Mark Shetler, and Imam Kashif of SALAM, just before the Adhan (Muslim Prayer Call) marked the breaking of the fast. An after-dinner impromptu speech by SALAM Board Chair Waseem Bawa also reminded us of the recent passing of, and the impact made worldwide by, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, the most famous Muslim-American of all times.