By Adil James, MMNS
The Lansing Mayoral Iftar was a celebration of mutual goodwill, from the Democratic politicians of Lansing to the Muslim community of Southeast Michigan.
The keynote speaker for the event was, appropriately, Congressman Andre Carson (D-7th-IN) who is only the second Muslim elected to the Congress in American history–who is serving with Keith Ellison (D-12th-MN), the first Muslim congressman.
The event began at about 7pm in a large banquet hall in downtown Lansing, the Lansing Center, adjacent to Lansingâ€™s Lugnut Stadium. Lansing has thrived over the past five years–it is clean and has an active night life and a vibrant downtown with new office and apartment buildings within sight of the Capitol Building, and in the vicinity of the Lansing Center.
About 720 people attended the Ramadan Unity Dinner and Iftar, including many prominent people from the Democratic party in Michigan, such as Lansing mayor and Gubernatorial frontrunner Virg Bernero, and East Lansing mayor Vic W. Loomis Jr.
The evening was really billed as a fundraiser for hungry people in Michigan rather than as an interfaith event or an outreach event to Muslims, or as a religious event, although the name of the event and the many Muslims invited communicated the message of an attempt to build bridges to the Muslim community.
Accordingly, representatives of several Michigan food banks were recognized and applauded by the speakers.
In fact the event had more of a political air than a religious one, demonstrating that this was more of an outreach to Muslims by non-Muslims rather than the reverse. As an example, there was no Qur`an reading, and the invocation was by a Christian preacher rather than a Muslim.
Still, the event was very positive. The MC, Dr. Katranji began by welcoming the guests and explaining that the purpose of the event was to fight hunger, and he welcomed two food bank representatives to the event. He emphasized, â€œthe Almighty wants us to work together–Lansing, Michigan, the USA, to make the world a better place–to build unity regardless of faith.â€
Dr. Katranji welcomed Virg Bernero, pointing out that Bernero had taken a break from his hectic campaign schedule of meetings and fundraisers, as an indication of the importance of the Ramadan event to him.
â€œLook how this event has grown,â€ said Mayor Bernero, pointing out steady improvements in the event over the past 4 years. Bernero gave a description of Ramadan and its significance to Muslims, and said â€œI am proud to call Muslims my friends,â€ explaining that â€œMuslims are an integral part of the Michigan community.â€
â€œWelcome,â€ he said, â€œfrom the bottom of my heart.â€ â€œWelcome, and thanks to each and every one of you.â€
Bernero expressed the hope that he would win the approaching gubernatorial election and said, â€œWho knows, maybe Iâ€™ll be welcoming you to the state Ramadan dinnerâ€ next year.
The highlight was likely the speech by Rep. Carson, who demonstrated the charisma which helped him to reach his present position. He referred to the intense opposition that he and Ellison had faced on their accession to the Congress, saying that in the early days of his election, his detractors, shocked at his and Ellisonâ€™s success, were saying â€œHere comes Shariâ€™ah law!â€
Carson explained that that bitterness has faded in the intervening years, however.
Carson showed his nimble wit, self-confidence, and friendly nature by making jokes based on the speeches that immediately preceded his.
Carson referred to the hadith that sadaqa does not diminish wealth, arguing that we have to help other people around the world in difficulty, referring to Haiti.
â€œWe are a monotheistic community but we are not monolithic,â€ pointing out the ethnic diversity in the Muslim community.
Carson gave an example of an aid to Gaza bill which he voted in favor of because of the benefits it conferred on people in Gaza, but for which he faced intense criticism from Muslims who did not understand how his vote for the legislation actually was positive and not harmful to citizens of Gaza.
He confronted Muslims with hard questions, saying that we had failed to argue strongly against the members of our own faith who failed us, referring to an egregious example of domestic violence which he said the Muslim community had not condemned strongly. â€œThat kind of hypocrisy does not go unnoticed,â€ he said pointedly.
Carson pointed out problems external to the Muslim community, like racial profiling, but emphasized problems internal to the Muslim community like racism among Muslims.
Carson ended his speech with an admonishment to those present to shore up the government. Quoting Ben Franklin, he said â€œyou have a republic, if you can keep it.â€