Houston Iftar Brings Community, Elected Officials, Mayor Together to Break Fast

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Houston Iftar organizers and volunteers at the function held last Sunday, June 28
at the Bayou City Center.
Photo: Shamim Syed, Pakistan News

By  Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: The Mayor chose to end her speech to the packed hall with a story with a moral, cupping her hands as she spoke. “The future lies in your hands,” she declared, reflecting on the common thread of lament for the recent Charleston killings that wove through all the other speeches. “Let us join hands together and make the world a better place.”

Parker recalled how the annual dinner used to be called the “Mayor’s Iftar Dinner” when it began as a small gathering on the steps of City Hall and was first organized by then Councilman M.J. Khan. It has moved to other venues, like the GRB Convention Center and in recent years has grown to the large scale event that it is now. At her urging, the name was changed to Houston Iftar to reflect the role and desires of the local community. “We are an international city. In Houston, friendly is a noun, not an adjective,” Parker continued, “It is a place of tolerance and diversity.”


Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congressman Al Green presented proclamations to the Iftar Dinner founder M.J. Khan (extreme left) and the 2015 event Chair Sunny Sharma (second from left) and other organizing members.
Photos: Jawahar Malhotra

The Annual Iftar Ramadan Dinner, which has become a tradition in the metroplex over the past 15 years, was held last Sunday evening, June 28 at the Bayou City Event Center off the South Loop and Fannin. The entire hall was filled with nearly 1500 people who came to break their fast with organizers and elected officials from across the city. Though Khan is still part of the organizing group, this year’s event was chaired by Sunny Sharma, President of the Sister City Associations of Abu Dhabi, Baku, Basrah, Istanbul and Karachi, in conjunction with the Islamic Society of Greater Houston and coordinated by Muhammad Saeed Sheikh.

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Houston Mayor Annise Parker delivered the Keynote Address

The event, which was emceed by Nadia Gire, opened with prayers by Zara Khan and verses from the Quran in Arabic by Nihat Yesil, followed by a discourse on the “Human Values in Islam” by Imam Imad Enchassi of Oklahoma City. Admitting that his parents were Egyptian and Lebanese and his wife Hispanic and Native American, and his “kids confused!”, Enchassi spoke of commonalities in the Quran and the Old Testament of the Bible, pointing out that, in the Quran, Moses was referred to 171 times and that the Virgin Mary was the only female name in it. “Our common values teach us that love is more powerful than hate,” he ended.

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Jihad Turk, President of the Bayan Claremont Islamic Graduate School

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and after her, Congressman Al Green both were delighted to be at the Iftar and vehemently decried the hate crime in Charleston. “What is meant for evil turns into good,” remarked Lee. “Ramadan is the season for coming together.” She emphasized that there was no room for discrimination for people in this country. Green echoed her sentiments. “This gathering shows how much we appreciate each other,” he said, adding, “All religions are based on forgiveness. Sacrifice and suffering can teach us to live as brothers and sisters in peace.”

Lee and Green both presented proclamations of the significance of the day to the organizing committee. Later, Texas Governor Greg Abbott sent his videotaped greetings and felicitations which were broadcast to the entire hall.

Organizing Committee Coordinator Muhammad Saeed Sheikh recognized all the officials and dignitaries, which included Guest of Honor S. Javaid Anwar, the President & CEO of Midland Energy & Petroplex Energy, who has been the main sponsor of the event for the fourth year running. Anwar recalled his mother who died this past March and how she loved to speak on the phone with her former neighbors in Jaipur before the Partition. “Don’t let people hijack religion,” he said. “We need education, killing innocent people is not the answer.”

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Imam Imad Enchassi, President of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City

Jihad Turk, the President of the Bayan Claremont Islamic Graduate School flew in from Los Angeles for the event to deliver a discourse on the “Significance of Ramadan”. He talked about his Christian mother from Oklahoma and his father from Jerusalem as influences in his view of life. “Ramadan is a month to reframe the way our religion is viewed for its compassion, justice, mercy and generosity,” he said. “The Quran teaches that there is a better way. Repel evil with goodness until your worst enemy becomes your closest friend.”

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Guest of Honor and Grand Sponsor S. Javaid Amwar

In light of the recent killings in Charleston, South Carolina which were done by a white person, M.J. Khan spoke about the importance of ruling out bias against peaceful Muslims. “America has challenges,” he said rousingly. “The amazing thing is that nobody denounced White folks and Christianity for the killings (in Charleston). But if it had been a Black or Hispanic or Muslim, they would have branded them and asked ‘Why is this is a problem with your religion?’” he added to loud applause.

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Former Houston Councilman M.J. Khan

After Dua (Invocation) by Imam Tauqer Shah of the Maryam Islamic Center and Aadhan by Fatih Bayard, the fast was broken with the traditional dates and a small snack laid out in boxes at each seat. A sumptuous meal was then served, buffet style, at the far side of the hall, and catered by Tempura Halal Restaurant, as it has done in previous years.