“Faith Led, Justice Driven” was the theme of the 24th Annual Gala of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area (CAIR-SFBA). The gala sold out, drawing more than 1,300 Bay Area Muslims, friends and dignitaries to the Santa Clara Convention Center on Oct. 27 to uplift their faith community and raise funds to support CAIR programs for justice.
Underlying the festive occasion, however, was the sobering news from Pittsburgh, PA, that a Jewish synagogue, the Tree of Life, had been attacked earlier in the day by an apparently lone gunman. The massacre killed 11 Sabbath worshipers and wounded six, including four first responders, in a hate crime against the Jewish community.
“It’s important to have a sense of community in this political climate, especially because places of worship and religious communities feel so compromised in terms of their safety these days,” said Los Gatos resident Khadijah Khokhar, attending the CAIR banquet with her mother.
“We were talking about the synagogue shooting,” continued Khokhar. “This could very well be our place of worship tomorrow, our mosque. The Muslim community really grieves with the Pittsburgh synagogue because they’re our brothers and sisters.”
The gala began with prayers at sunset, which was 6:17 p.m. that day. The worshipers removed their shoes and kneeled on prayer mats in a ballroom, the women separate from the men. The imam (prayer leader) chanted the traditional call to worship: Come to prayer, come to success, God is great — Allahu akbar.
The gala program opened with remarks from CAIR leaders and the introduction of Bay Area dignitaries, followed by dinner, fundraising, featured speakers, and the presentation of awards — including an award to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco for its “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” exhibition on display through Jan. 6, 2019.
State Senator Bob Wieckowski welcomed CAIR to Santa Clara, promising that California would continue to be a voice of hope, celebrating its diversity and resisting discrimination.
“Put our faith in action by protecting the most vulnerable people,” urged CAIR National Board Chair Roula Allouch, noting an increase in attacks on minorities across the country. “Don’t just vote. Empower our community to run for office.”
CAIR’s program on Bystander Intervention Training was presented in Santa Clara last August.
CAIR-SFBA Executive Director Zahra Billoo spoke of the government ban that prevents Muslims from certain countries from entering the United States. She shared the story of a young woman in Berkeley whose husband cannot join her.
“We’re refuting this Muslim ban right now,” said Billoo. “Our lawyers won’t charge a dime because all of you have made it possible. Your access to [legal representation] should not depend on your paycheck….Be courageous in your help to others, take risks, be willing to give something up.”
Gala attendees gave up $250,000 by the end of the evening, well on the way to meeting the $350,000 goal.
Keynote speaker Shaun King, an activist and writer, was unable to attend the banquet because of the passing of his brother but delivered his message via video. Poet, recording artist and activist Amir Sulaiman closed the program, proclaiming that “the answer to all our problems is that we have to love each other.”
“The heart [like a coconut] is designed to be broken to get benefit out of it,” said Sulaiman. “Let yourself care and have the suffering that comes with it.”
Prayer for All People
“Bless this country and its people who live as Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and people of other faiths and no faiths. Our Lord, show us how to work for the common good of all humanity and give us the wisdom to maintain peace and tranquility for the people of this great nation, the United States of America,” wrote Iftekhar A. Hai, President of the United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance, in his “Prayer for All People.”
A young Muslim woman from Sunnyvale, who wished to remain unnamed, had some practical advice on knowing and loving others.
“Don’t rely just on the media for understanding of people and issues,” she said. “Be aware of your own biases. Open yourself. Start conversations. Talk to strangers — at the store, on the bus, when you take Uber. There are so many opportunities.”
CAIR is the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. Visit https://ca.cair.com/sfba/ for information.