On the last day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Aug. 17, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) hosted an Iftar dinner at the Wilson Building. Joining the Mayor in presenting this event was the D.C. Muslim Democratic Caucus along with a distinguished list of co-hosts including the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Red Toque Café, and Real Halal, LLC.
Iftar is an Arabic word, that literally means “breakfast.” Traditionally it’s known as the meal Muslims enjoy at sunset following a day of fasting. During Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims are obligated to avoid eating, drinking, and sexual relations from the early morning, when the sun begins to rise, until it sets. The fasting requirement is relaxed for those who are traveling, sick, and, for women, during menstruation.
Since the Islamic calendar is lunar based, the months rotate throughout the official calendar year. This year, Ramadan was observed during the summer, from late July to Aug. 18. As the first late-summer occurrence of Ramadan in forty years, Muslims were required to fast for upwards of 15 hours per day. Thus, the Iftar meal can be a big deal and is often celebrated along with family, neighbors, and friends.
With an estimated 10 percent to 20 percent of District residents having at least one Muslim family member, literally thousands of Iftar feasts were held in D.C. this Ramadan. These gatherings took place in homes, businesses, embassies, and even in government buildings like the White House. At the Iftar hosted by President Obama, he spoke about importance of religious freedom both here and globally, the strength of Muslim women, and the gains for Muslims over the past year since the Arab Spring.
A week after the president’s remarks at the White House, Gray at the Wilson Building Iftar observed, “Regardless of your race, culture or religious beliefs, the principles of fasting, reflection and discipline — which are upheld by the Muslim community year-round and especially in this season of Ramadan — are practices from which everyone can benefit.”
“We could all use a little more discipline,” Gray said, possibly referring to some who’ve called on the veteran politician to leave office early in light of the investigation into his successful 2010 campaign.
The mayor left his guests with a prayer. “I pray that this time of celebration will remind us that we can only advance as a city and as a nation together when each of us values the contributions of the other and respects their beliefs and their practices…[M]ay we all draw upon the strength of our diversity so that we can be closer, more effective and more powerful than any of the things that would otherwise tear us apart.”
The event drew over 100 Muslim business, religious, and political leaders along with distinguished non-Muslims like Franklin Garcia, chairman of the D.C. Latino Democratic Caucus. “I was pleased to see that the Muslim community was not only so well organized but they are a growing minority in the [District],” said Garcia. “You had a sense in the room that everyone was there for… a purpose that was very serious and meaningful. “The Latino community can learn from the Muslim community about the way they organized themselves,” Garcia added.
Garcia also had some words of wisdom for his Muslim hosts, who earlier in the Iftar program, observed that of the over 150 judges in D.C., not a single one is Muslim, while Maryland has at least two Muslims sitting as judges. “What you do is organize, organize,” to change this fact urged Garcia.
Several members of the Mayor’s cabinet attended his Iftar including DCRA Director Nick Majett; Interim Health Director Dr. Saul Levin and Ron Linton, chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission.
While not the first such Iftar hosted by a D.C. mayor, event organizers described the event as the first to be both widely publicized and attended. Imam Talib Shareef, who leads one of the largest Muslim congregations in the District of Columbia, saluted the Mayor on hosting one of the best Iftars he’d attended throughout the month of fasting. “This Iftar was mainly for the common people,” said Imam Shareef. Concerning the Mayor’s political troubles, Imam Shareef said, “We support good works, the Mayor has done some good works and that’s what we see….We don’t pay as much attention to things we don’t see. And this [the Iftar] was an example of good works for the people.”
Talib I. Karim is a freelance reporter, a lawyer and chairman of the D.C. Muslim Democratic Caucus.