With star power at hand, the Council on American-Islamic Relation’s annual banquet and fund-raiser was off to a thrilling start.
From first-ever Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison, to LA County Sheriff Lee Baca and actor Carl Weathers, the packed ballroom inside the Anaheim Hilton hotel was bursting at the seams with members of the Muslim community, elected leaders and various interfaith groups who came to celebrate CAIR’s achievements.
Over 2,000 people attended the banquet, making it possibly the largest Muslim fundraiser in the nation.
The theme of this year’s event by CAIR’s Greater Los Angeles chapter was a call for a conversation to begin, a conversation spearheaded by various community leaders who spoke with a united voice, calling for peace and unity while denouncing racism, intolerance and stereotyping.
"There is great diversity in the Muslim community," Baca said. "And CAIR is a leading voice in calling for tolerance, equality and unity."
Weathers and Japanese American civil rights activist Nuboko Miyamoto, who is also a former prison camp detainee, shared that sentiment by reading passages from The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a Japanese author about the Japanese internment camp experience emphasizing the theme of peace and tolerance.
CAIR’s national executive director, Nihad Awad, spoke eloquently and firmly when he denounced the Los Angles Police Department’s plan to map Muslim communities in the Greater Los Angeles Area. "We call on the LAPD to scrap the project of mapping Muslims," he said. "We want the police to enlist and not blacklist, support and not report members of our community," he added.
Awad pointed out that of the seven million American Muslims, Al-Qaeda was not able to recruit a single person, proof that the American Muslim community is patriotic. The LAPD has since dropped the controversial plan.
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR Southern California, stole the show with a moving and powerful speech that resonated well with his audience. Ayloush spoke of how a trip to Manzanar, one of many internment camps for thousands of Japanese Americans during WWII, changed his perspective on life.
"I took my kids to learn about an important part of their country’s history," Ayloush said. "But little did I know it was going to be a life-changing experience that helped me realize the bigger picture of my commitment to my work."
Ayloush said the struggle of his community was not merely for the acceptance of Muslims in America, but also to protect America’s soul and great values from being manipulated and compromised by those who wish to spread fear and paranoia.