Iftar Dinner with Mayor Parker and a Delegation of Local Celebrities


Houston socialite, activist and author Joanne King Herring (in pant suit) was joined by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Mayor Annise Parker and Houston SIster City LiasonEllen Goldberg. Photos : Jawahar Malhotra

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: It has become a tradition over the past seven years for the Mayor of Houston to hold a dinner to mark iftar, the breaking of the day-long fast by observant Muslims, on one evening during the month of Ramadan. At first, during Bill White’s time, it was held at the reflecting pool across from City Hall, with speeches and prayers from the landing above the steps and covered booths serving the dinner items.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker with Houston socialite, activist and author Joanne King Herring.

Since then, the event has moved indoors and become more lavish and this year it was held at the Bayou City Event Center at 9401 Knight Road, just south of the Reliant Park complex. This year the Houston Sister Cities Association organized this event involving the Sister Cities of Abu Dhabi, Baku, Istanbul and Karachi and in collaboration with 30 other local organizations. The arrangements were for 1,500 people and included a dozen dinner items, with the must–have khir and baklava, catered by Tempura Restaurant over five buffet lines at each end of the enormous hall.

The program started just somewhat behind schedule, as the organizers waited for the guests to filter in. Some were caught by the unexpected heavy downpour that erupted just before the program got underway. Others just showed up at their own pace – a common problem with the desi crowd which is accustomed to less punctual and much later fare.


Congressman Al Green presented a Certificate of recogntion of the event to the Houston Iftar Organizing Committee, accompanied by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and City Councilman Larry Green.

Still, as emcee Mona Khalil started off, she kept with the script and applauded the huge turnout, more expected than actual at past 7 pm, but the time to break fast was absolute and the event had to conclude before 8:19pm. Wajid Siddiqi recited a verse from the Koran to open the proceedings and then Mohammed Saeed Sheikh, Chairman of the Houston Iftar Organizing Committee gave welcoming remarks and was followed up by fellow Board member Jamal Bafagih who recognized the dozen local politicians and local celebrities who attended the program.

These included Lauren Santerre, of the Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston who spoke about the story of Moses and the power of fasting and the tradition as it is expressed in the Judeo-Christian faiths. “Seeking God is mostly individual,” she said, “but also a communal experience”. She was followed by Dr. Molen Butt, Chairman of the Shifa Services Foundation who spoke about the essence of fasting.

Mohammed Saeed Sheikh, Chairman of the Houston Iftar Organizing Committee made the welcome remarks.

Mohammed Saeed Sheikh, Chairman of the Houston Iftar Organizing Committee made the welcome remarks.

There were brief speeches by Congressman Al Green, Sheriff Adrian Garcia and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee who marveled at the diversity of Houston. “This is a community that sees no color, only sees me,” she exclaimed. “It is a community that loves!”

Dr. Waleed Basyouni, VP of the Clear Lake Islamic Center gave the message of Ramadan. And there were video messages from Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and President Barack Obama to congratulate all on the Ramadan season. Sayed Javaid Anwar, President & CEO of Midland Energy introduced Mayor Annise Parker, who strode onstage to give the Keynote Address. “This is an opportunity to celebrate Ramadan and also for those who want to build bridges,” she said, “and join tin breaking bread as a symbol of our commitment to each other.”

Jamal Bafagih, Member of the Houston Iftar Organizing Committee recognized the dignitaries and sponsors.

Jamal Bafagih, Member of the Houston Iftar Organizing Committee recognized the dignitaries and sponsors.

“In Houston, we live diversity each day,” exclaimed the Mayor. She did not shy away from touching on the subject of terrorism by mentioning the Boston Bombings. “We cannot pretend that these things don’t happen and shape how Islam is viewed,” she said. “Terrorism is a mindless beast and destroys. The antidote to fear is knowledge: counter acts of violence with acts of love.”

As soon as the Mayor was done, Kemal Civelej, the Imam of the Turkish Center came onstage and made the Dua or invocation, followed by the Aadhan or call to prayers by Hafiz Imadul Hassan, which signaled to all the breaking of the fast, beginning with the small box in front of all the guests containing grapes, strawberries and a samosa, washed down with bottles of juice and water. By then, the hall had filled substantially and the rush was on to the buffet lines.

A main celebrity who almost all the local politicians acknowledged was a special guest for the evening, Joanne King Herring Davis, the much admired Houston socialite, activist, former talk show host of the 15-year long “Joanne King Show” TV program and author.

The 84-year old Herring looked superb in her pink outfit and was universally acknowledged, even by Dewhurst in his video message, for her work in changing the world. In the 1980s, she played a role in helping US Rep. Charlie Wilson persuade the US to train and arm Mujahidin to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Herring has also been the roaming Ambassador for Pakistan in the 1980s and received many awards for her diplomatic efforts. Herring was much sought out by all for photo ops all evening and she gladly obliged.