Cair-Sacramento Valley Holds 15th Annual Banquet
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is the most active and influential Muslim civil rights organization in America. Its Sacramento Valley (SV) Chapter is certainly reflective of its vision and has served the area community in various capacities over the years.
When CAIR-SV holds its annual banquet and fundraiser, it attracts attention far beyond the followers of the Islamic faith in California’s capital city. This year was no exception as close to 1,000 people gathered at the McClellan Conference Center for its 15th Annual Banquet held with the theme of “Living Our Faith: Defending Freedom” and once again it was quite a night. One can point out that this annual gathering is the largest annual non-religious event that our Greater Sacramento Muslim community holds in the region. Only the Eid Prayers and certain religious occasions are known to gather more participants.
The evening started off with a recitation from the Holy Qur’an followed by an English translation of the verses recited. Emcee for the evening,Dr Masood Cajee, whose voice should be recommended for a patent was our very capable emcee for the program. Interestingly, he conducted most of the proceedings while remaining off the stage. EyasAbdeen, President of CAIR –SV, formally welcomed everyone on behalf of the organization. He went back into the history of the formation of this chapter of CAIR and stated its organizational mission. He added that at the first banquet about 15 years ago, there were about 200 people and compared that number with the close to 1,000 at this one. He also commented on the diversity of the people present to safeguard common civil rights. “I am honored to see all of you here,” he said. Abdeen also thanked all the staff and volunteers who made this effort seem easy.
Local California Assemblymember Kevin McCarty spoke next. He said that he felt privileged to be present at the 15th Annual Banquet and commended CAIR for standing up for civil rights since its inception - not just for Muslims but for other communities as well. He said that Muslim issues are critically important today, and that it was good to see members of the community gain visibility and being elected to public office in some parts of America. He also spoke about refugees being welcomed in our state.
A prayer call or Azan followed with many participants gathering outside the hall to pray. And a wonderful dinner followed, catered by Fresh Mediterranean with an additional item by Carameesh Cookies, appreciated by all here. A small number of area elected, appointed, and public sector officials made brief remarks during lunch before CAIR-SV Executive Director BasimElkarra came to the stage to thank all the sponsors and supporters of theevent . Yoshinori H. T. Himel, President of the ABAS Law Foundation, presented a check for $5,000 for CAIR-SV to Basim, proceeds from a recently aired and very moving Japanese American documentary “And Then They Came For Us” which has highlighted the wrongful internment of a patriotic community during World War II. And a Nasheed performance by Wendell Uthman Ames and Marlon Altan closed dinner.
California State Controller Betty Yee delivered the keynote speech at this event. She is no stranger to our Sacramento community and was very articulate this evening. She started her speech with a thank you, good evening, Salamalaikum (Peace be onto you). Her delivery was on a very philosophical note, about rights, hopes, a life to be fought for and peace to be won, and this is the time to pursue these goals, living in faith, regardless of your religious beliefs. She said that she stood with others in California in opposition to the establishment of a Muslim Registry, and in denouncing discrimination in the form of the Muslim Travel Ban. She added that these were a betrayal of our nation’s values. Betty acknowledged and thanked the Attorney General of California, Xavier Becerra (who was present at this event) for his support. She spoke of four freedoms in our nation: of speech, to worship, from want, and from fear and where CAIR’s work comes in. She referred to our constitution and attempts by some to reverse the rights enshrined in it. “Freedom from fear I believe is the most fundamental freedom of all,” said Yee. She spoke of different faiths and their beautiful places of worship in California. She added that some live in fear due to their faith, fearful of their children being bullied in school, women being harassed on campus, men fearing job loss and parents facing deportation, etc.
Yee asked everyone to look around the hall and ask if we are the reason that people are afraid of. “Do we really know why we fear the other?” She spoke of her experience after interacting with Muslim Americans for decades and of the many positive impressions that she had of this community. After sharing the sad chapter of Japanese-Americans and internment, Betty added that our collective freedom depends on our ability to defend the rights of others. She added that Muslim-Americans understand this and are actively engaged in reaching out to other communities. She gave an example of Muslims and Latinos in Orange County coming together during Ramadan this year. Betty also congratulated CAIR-SV on its 15 years, and wished it success. A CAIR–Sacramento Valley “Faith In Action” video was shown soon after highlighting its work, a real trip down memory lane for those of us who had witnessed the journey.
Basim-Elkarra returned to stage and gave an impassioned speech about the CAIR–SV Chapter and its important accomplishments before making a fundraising appeal. To conduct the fundraiser, once again DrAltaf Husain (Vice Chair of ISNA) returned to Sacramento to use his humor, wit and charm to encourage everyone present to open up their hearts, wallets and checkbooks to fund the worthy efforts of the organization. DrAltaf has a unique ability to have people part with their money and enjoy it!
Next up was the Awards ceremony and this year four were presented. The Champion of Justice Award went to GitHub, the Courage & Inspiration Award to the Sacramento Area Congregation Together (Sacramento ACT), a special award was given to CAIR’s very own Danna Elneil, and a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award to DrNajmeMinhaj. The evening ended with a group picture of many CAIR-SV leaders past and present, more Nasheeds and concluding remarks.