Ramadan at the California State Capitol Brings Community Together
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The Council on American-Islamic Relations-California Chapter (CAIR-CA at http://ca.cair.com/ ) held its 13 th Annual Ramadan Iftar (breaking of the fast) event at the California State Capitol building on Monday, June 13, 2016. What is usually a joyous occasion turned out to also be a somber one this year due to the tragedy in Orlando, but one has to give credit to CAIR and a number of California State Senate and Assembly officials for sponsoring and hosting this event and continuing what has now become a tradition at the center of California’s government.
The State of California is now home to a large number of both American-born and immigrant Muslims from around the world and an event like this is reflective of their significance here. So right off the bat, special thanks are in order to Senator Richard Pan and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon plus Assembly members Kevin McCarty, Jim Cooper and Ken Cooley for leading this effort here along with a number of their colleagues.
After a social hour where hosts and guests had an opportunity to interact, the formalities began with a short call to attention by Sameena Usman from the CAIR San Francisco Chapter and a recitation from the Holy Qur’an by Ahmed Nmier followed by an English translation by Maheen Ahmed from CAIR Sacramento. And speaking of the CAIR Sacramento Valley Chapter, its new President Eyas Abdeen delivered the initial welcome address. He thanked everyone for participating in this 13 th Capitol Ramadan Iftar and how honored he was to celebrate Ramadan with members of the Muslim community, Interfaith leaders and our elected officials and to break the fast (Iftar) here at the State Capitol. He said that the California Muslim community has long partnered with the mainstream and with legislative officials to bring positive change to our state. He also said that in light of the tragic events in Orlando, it is important that we all stand together against hatred, bigotry and senseless violence. He also called for a moment of silence to remember the victims of Orlando.
Jon Fish, the President of Interfaith Council of Sacramento spoke next. He said that this was his 7 th Ramadan Iftar (he has showed up for half of them!). He reflected back on his boot camp days almost a half a century ago and looking into the Bible given to him by a Chaplain. He said that he concentrated his attention on the part of the Bible where Abraham was bargaining with the Lord on whether he could find 50 good people decreasing down to just one. He said that in the Interfaith community he was always amongst good people and no such bargaining was required and that it would be true of this group here tonight. He said that nearly all religions fast (there are not many that don’t) in some way, shape, or form. He spoke of the belief of Ramadan that the gates of heaven open and the gates of hell close. He added that his own parents taught him as a child that hate could open the gates of hell. He also said that we could all have disagreements and that he had discovered in life that hate generally comes out of fear which comes about because of what we don’t know. He added that we as a people need to toss off hate and in order to do that we will have to toss off fear. We have to get out and get to know each other.
Basim Elkarra of CAIR Sacramento Valley next introduced our local transplant to Southern California, Adel Syed, who in turn introduced Dr Miram Y. Vega - CEO, UMMA Clinic ( http://www.ummaclinic.org/ is celebrating its 20 thAnniversary this year), a major sponsor of this event. The University Muslim Medical Association (UMMA) located in the Los Angeles area, was founded by Muslim American students at UCLA and Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science with a great deal of help from Councilwoman Walters. It saw its first patient in the year 1996. Dr Miram who has been at UMMA for just 6 months commended CAIR for continuing this Iftar tradition at the Capitol. She said that UMMA was happy to be co-sponsoring the event this year and hopes to continue to do so in the years to come. She also provided a short background of the organization and described the kind of work that it has been doing in the South Los Angeles area. She said that the UMMA organization was founded on the values of Islam and that 98% of the patients treated were not of the Muslim faith-transcending race, religion and ethnicity. The theme for UMMA’s 20 th year was “A Legacy of Community Health and Healing” and bringing the community together, she said.
Next up was the presentation of a “Resolution to Honor the Month of Ramadan” by Assemblymembers Kevin McCarty, Ken Cooley and Jim Cooper (along with Kansen Chu) who accompanied the presentation with supportive remarks for the community after what can only be described as “shocking” events of the weekend (Orlando). Assemblymember Bill Quirk from the 20 th District also spoke that he will be introducing a bill to make August “Muslim Appreciation Month” at the Capitol and added that the best way to prevent terrorism in the future is to have an integrated community.
This also set the stage for a very moving speech by State Controller Betty Yee. Betty shared some personal thoughts especially due to the events of the weekend, collecting her emotions in the background of Orlando. “Why can’t we get guns out of awful hands?” she said. “Have these tragedies become the new normal in our lives?” She said that we need to do something collectively to counter this feeling of helplessness. She added that equally dangerous as the gun is the tongue. The words that spew hate - the words that build walls between us! Teary eyed, she thanked CAIR and the Muslim-American community for doing what they can to repair our world (facing the challenges that we currently face).
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones in his speech said that it is very hard in the light of recent events not to give way to despair. How could this be? How can an individual so filled with hate do this? These sorts of events are happening with increasing frequency in our country, he said. He also said that (in spite of such events) what is inspiring is that we all still come together here as people of goodwill representing different faiths and backgrounds.
The new US Attorney for the Eastern District of California Phillip Talbert (replacing Ben Wagner) also introduced himself and greeted the Muslim community on Ramadan. CAIR’s Basim Elkarra also thanked a very long list of people in attendance here for their support for this event and of CAIR’s work over the years.
The closing was delivered by Imam Haazim Rashed from Masjid As-Sabur, Sacramento who delivered a Dua (prayer) in English just before the Adhan or prayer call started the breaking of the fast. After prayers, a fine Mediterranean dinner ended the event.