SALAM Interfaith Iftar Looks to Our Youth and the Future
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims (SALAM) held its annual Interfaith Iftar (breaking of the fast) on June 8, 2017 with the theme of “Building Foundations for Spiritual Connection” at its Community Center located next to one of the most beautiful mosques in the Sacramento region.
SALAM has been in existence for approximately 30 years or so and during this period it has proven itself to be a truly American Masjid, especially in the aftermath of 9/11. Its interfaith outreach has also been exemplary and it is due to this track record that this writer makes it a point to attend this particular event where most of the invited guests are non-Muslims. They includes people who are already long-time friends of our Muslim community, or those who are just curious about the Islamic faith and to whom we must reach out in friendship. Plus, what better time is there to share our religion than the month of Ramadan?
After a very pleasant social hour where people of many faiths (or none) mingled and got to know each other, the proceedings began as co-emcees for the evening, Dr Anne Kjemtrup and Bob Martinez called everyone’s attention and the official program began with a recitation from the Holy Qur'an by Dr Reem Al-Olaby, followed by its English translation. Br Waseem Bawa, Chairperson of the SALAM Board, next officially welcomed everyone. Bawa started by thanking all the event sponsors namely Anjum Saeed, Javed Iqbal, Javed Siddiqui, Kais Menoufy, Dr Metwalli and Rosalie Amer, Osama Hassoun, Sharif Jewelers, Tariq Munir and Professor Ayad Al-Qazzaz.
Bawa also thanked everyone present for attending this Iftar event which he said has now become an annual tradition at SALAM. He added that this gathering of friends and neighbors serves as a counter to all the headlines that have dominated the news lately. He highlighted some of the tragic events that have occurred since Ramadan began this year, including those attributed to what he referred to as the “Un-Islamic State”. Bawa said that he wanted to focus on some of the positives too, like seemingly ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things like standing up to anti-Muslim hate in Portland as two of whom were killed in the process by the attacker and one was wounded (Fletcher), whose poem written after the attack was recited here. He also highlighted the work of Muslims who came forward and helped the wounded in the recent London attacks. He explained that this is what the essence of Ramadan is - empathy. Beyond fasting, Ramadan requires us to be generous and be mindful of doing good deeds, said Bawa.
And speaking of good deeds, Asif Haq next recognized the extraordinary work that some organizations are doing to help refugees coming to our area. He mentioned about half a dozen efforts that have been active in the past two years, including Opening Doors, The International Rescue Committee, the UC Davis School of Medicine, California Dept. of Public Health, The Refugee Enrichment and Development Association (REDA), The Sacramento Kindness Campaign and the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers.
Next up was an indication of why SALAM has been such a successful religious organization. One reason for that is its ability to think about the future. The SALAM leadership this time chose five representatives from our area youth representing the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths and invited them on to the stage to share their thoughts about their lives, beliefs and how they perceive their relationship with the wider community. If one was to provide details of their excellent presentations here, it would warrant a separate report. But Maliha Newsome, Leeza Wong, Hannah Lybbert, Rachel Chancellor and Ibrahim Syed could not have been more articulate than they were at this event. What an inspiration! If this was a reflection of what the future of the Sacramento area and America will be, then we are in good hands!
SALAM was also presented a Certificate of Recognition from California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and representing his office here was Sister Durriya Syed, who presented the certificate to Board Chair Waseem Bawa. A Shout Out to Dave Jones for recognizing the valuable service that SALAM provides to the community. And Dr Anne Kjemtrup next recognized the many officials and VIPs present who were just too numerous to be named here. But they did include representatives of local community groups, educational institutions, interfaith efforts, the local FBI and the US Attorney’s Office. Executive Assistant US Attorney Michele Beckwith came up to the stage and added her words of thanks and pointed out and appreciated the month of Ramadan’s focus on the community.
The SALAM Distinguished award is another unique feature of this organization’s outreach philosophy. It is given at SALAM events to either individuals or groups in the area for services rendered towards making our Sacramento community a better place to live by building bridges between people. And this year this award went to Rabbi Mona Alfi of the B'nai Israel synagogue, the Sacramento area’s oldest Jewish congregation. Rabbi Alfi humbly accepted the award and spoke about her Iranian background, growing up in a home where Farsi was spoken almost as much as English. Her father was an immigrant from Iran and relatives were constantly coming back and forth. She talked of an “Uncle” who was not Jewish but Muslim and her father’s best friend since childhood. She said that receiving this award from the SALAM Center “means the world to me.” She also shared with the gathering that she had arrived in the Sacramento area in 1998 and soon after Jewish places of worship in the area were attacked by Christian extremists. And she spoke of the support shown by SALAM’s Executive Director Dr Metwalli Amer during that time.
The breaking of the fast was fast approaching as a moving interfaith prayer for peace was shared by Pastor Alan Jones of St Marks Church and Imam Kashif Ahmed of SALAM. The beginning of Iftar was announced with the Muslim call to prayer and dates and light snacks were consumed by all. Muslims headed to the SALAM Mosque for prayers and a delicious meal was served soon after for all to enjoy. And as we left, what the youth said in their speeches earlier resonated clearly. What we might want to do is try to look at the future through their eyes, and hope should follow (God Willing).