The CAIR Georgia 2018 annual gala attracted more than 600 people at a sold-out event at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta. The event was sponsored by multiple businesses, nonprofits, and thirteen mosques, illuminating the rapidly growing popularity of CAIR in Georgia. This approval seems to be a product of CAIR’s result oriented work. Just last year CAIR GA answered 500 calls for help, investigated 20 Islamophobia cases, 30 media interviews and delivered 70 presentations. Remarkably, within past year CAIR has moved from no full-time employees to the employment of four full-time professionals.
A Muslim Boy Scout troop opened the event with the recitation of Quran by Hasan Tuha followed by the color guard. Yusof Burke, the chairman of the board, welcomed the guests and introduced the speakers.
Attorney Edward Mitchell, the executive director of CAIR Georgia, introduced his energetic team and highlighted their achievements. Murtuza Khwaja, who began as an intern, now works as a full-time staff attorney. Murtuza deals with discrimination cases and proactively educates Muslims about their civil rights. Ruwa Romman, enrolled in Georgetown University pursuing a Masters in Public Policy, serves as Director of Communication. David Rodriguez, with seven years of case management experience, serves as paralegal and office manager. It is noteworthy that all five people mentioned above have completely different ethnic backgrounds highlighting CAIR’s power of diversity.
Roula Allouch, the first woman to serve as Chair of the National Board of Directors in the area of Islamic and American relations, highlighted CAIR’s performance throughout the country with special focus on CAIR Georgia, and emphasized the need of more volunteers in the Atlanta chapter. CAIR offers internships for bright energetic youth and is a great platform for personal growth while serving the community.
Hearing CAIR’s achievements, the audience was empowered and ensured that they are not alone in this fight. Speakers reminded the audience that there are thousands of people of ready to help, as we saw in the demonstrations at the airports during the first Muslim ban. Even at the fundraiser, Jewish Voice for Peace was present. In addition, CAIR honored two non-Muslim community members who risked their safety while going undercover in order to obtain information for CAIR at an anti-Muslim meeting.
Hasan Shibly, the executive director of CAIR Florida, led a heartwarming fundraiser, inviting the audience to combat hate (specifically citing how $10k had been spent by an anti-Muslim group to discredit Islam through hate-filled cartoons) by spending money to save the reputation of their faith. The audience poured their hearts out and CAIR Georgia raised a grand total of more than 220k which included a single donation of 50K.
The moving fundraiser was followed by an even more uplifting speech by Linda Sarsour, an American political activist and also former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. She emphasized the importance of not living in our own bubbles, of realizing that we as Muslims are not immune to mistreatment similar to that of the Japanese in the 1900s and other minority groups.
“Freedom in America is not free. It has never been free...what are you willing to sacrifice? What are you going to sacrifice for...Muslims who are going to live when you are no longer here? That responsibility lies with you and only you”.
She highlighted the importance of owning our presence in the United States, “We as Muslims in this country have everything to be proud of”, and also being unapologetic of our faith, stating that we can combat the hate through the education of people.
The event concluded with a light-hearted comedian, Sai’d Durrah, who while putting on a very humorous performance, conveying the subtle message of not being oversensitive and reactive. Sai’d advises that if you did not get hired as a fitness coach, it may not necessarily be your beard but it could be your belly :) So please don’t call CAIR in this case.
In the end, the audience was left impressed by the event’s excellent organization and choice of venue, in addition to the volunteers who did a great job in guiding the guests. Uplifting speeches and CAIR’s result oriented efforts should propel CAIR Georgia forward in the coming years.