Detroit’s Islamic Center organizes ‘Iftar tent’ to offer free meals

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The Islamic Center in Detroit holds breakfast events for a variety of public figures in the American community to strengthen cooperation with American institutions. (AN photo by Laila Alhusini)
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The Islamic Center in Detroit holds breakfast events for a variety of public figures in the American community to strengthen cooperation with American institutions. (AN photo by Laila Alhusini)
Updated 25 May 2019
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Detroit’s Islamic Center organizes ‘Iftar tent’ to offer free meals

  • Initiative aims to strengthen bonds between American Muslims and non-Muslims
  • Madeleine Moytuzu, a documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist, is working on a documentary series that focuses on Muslim immigrants in America

DETROIT, US: For many American Muslims, iftar is more than just the breaking of the fast at sunset each evening during the holy month of Ramadan. It is an opportunity for them to build bonds by gathering with non-Muslims to convey a better understanding of Islam.

Throughout the country, Muslims are inviting non-Muslims, including public officials, to join them during iftar. The non-Muslims are leaving the gathering with stronger ties and a better understanding of Islam and America’s growing Muslim community.

The Islamic Center in Detroit (ICD), the largest mosque in the Midwest, launched an initiative to establish the “Ramadan tent,” which provides free iftar meals for Muslims and non-Muslims, as well as offering free sahoor during the last 10 days of the holy month. The mosque has also organized breakfast events for a variety of public figures in the American community to strengthen cooperation between the ICD and American institutions.

“As the holy month of Ramadan is taking place, Muslims all over the world use this month to focus on their spirituality,” ICD Executive Director Sufian Nabhan said.

“We find many ways to increase our service to God. One of the most satisfying rewards is feeding the less fortunate in our community. Each night during Ramadan, over 200 families are our guests at this most worthy demonstration of man’s love and caring for other fellow human beings.”

 

Special hours 

Often in communities with sizable Muslim populations within Greater Detroit, such as Dearborn, Hamtramck, and increasingly suburbs like Canton and Troy, you will see restaurants set up special Ramadan hours to accommodate their practicing customers, with some staying open 24/7. Dearborn, which is one of the largest communities of American Muslims, is sometimes known as the Muslims’ Plymouth Rock, a reference to the spot where European explorers on the Mayflower first set foot in the “New World” in 1620.

The ICD invited several major mainstream news media representatives to share iftar in recognition of the role they play in educating the community on important issues, including on the Muslim community.

Veteran journalist Walter Middlebrook, a former assistant manager at Detroit News, said the gathering was “an important step to learn about the cultures and issues of Arab communities” as part of American society.

“Every media outlet in the city has an open door for your concerns, and it is up to you to come and make us accountable,” Middlebrook said. “You are who make us responsible, so we need you as much as we hopefully wish you realize that you need us. We can all work together to make our city a better place.”

Journalist Priya Mann of Detroit’s Channel 4 TV news station also spoke, adding that the iftar allows the mainstream news media to convey accurate images and understandings of Islam to non-Muslims in America.

“This event is a great opportunity to connect the components of American society and to identify unique stories from the community and to express them through the media,” Mann said.

“It is so important that we build bridges and to talk to one another and discuss how to cover certain stories. I think the more all of us get around the table together, the greater the opportunity to deliver fair and valuable journalism.”

Having people from various parts of community attend is important. But to have a dialogue is what makes the gathering more valuable.

Khalil Hachem, a host on the US Arab Radio morning program in Michigan, said that the focus on news media personalities and the media is important.

“We want our community to understand what is going on,” he said. “There are two kinds of media: Streaming media and community news which is very important these days because most newspapers and TV stations do not have the staff to focus on every community as well as they should. We need to tell our story because no one knows it better than us and we are going to tell it to everybody.”

He also highlighted the role of journalism in supporting members of the community to render achievements, whether they are in the form of appointments or people who won elections.

Mark Hawkes, a Detroit News columnist and religious affairs writer, also expressed his desire to get in touch with Islamic religious centers to learn more about the Muslim community’s culture.

Madeleine Moytuzu, a documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist, is working on a documentary series that focuses on Muslim immigrants in America. 

“I am learning so much about your community this evening, there is so much misunderstanding, so having this kind of conversation would change our community.”

One of the ICD iftars was attended by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and various key officials. The mayor of Detroit said he has been attending iftar banquets with Muslims for three years. 

He added that despite the attacks led by some politicians against the Muslim community, the community is continuing to build bridges of communication with other parts of American society.

Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell also hosted an iftar reception, preserving a tradition started by her late husband, former Congressman John Dingell. He was one of the first non-Muslims to host iftars to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together to recognize the issues, concerns and traits they all shared.

She stressed the importance of standing up to the discourse of fear, hatred and discrimination. She said it was important to hold such an event annually, both to honor the holy month of Ramadan and to commemorate her husband, who died earlier this year.

In his speech, Sam Beydoun, a member of the provincial financial committee, highlighted the philosophy behind fasting.

Dr. James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, joined from Washington to talk to audiences about the problems Arabs and Muslims face in confronting Islamophobia in the West.

“We are witnessing a leap in the community members holding governmental, executive and legislative positions through the nomination and election process,” Zogby said, stressing that time is the most appropriate to work and protect the community’s rights.

The observance of Ramadan traditions, along with the gathering of Muslims and non-Muslims, will culminate after the last day of Ramadan in the celebration of Eid Al-Fitr. 

The final three-day commemoration will underscore many of the understandings that have been shared during the past month of Ramadan.


Genius or joker? British PM favorite Johnson set to face the world

Updated 27 June 2019
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Genius or joker? British PM favorite Johnson set to face the world

  • The 55-year-old, famous for his messy mop of blond hair and dishevelled style, has turned upper-class English eccentricity into a political asset in Britain
  • He is a natural introvert, two sources close to his team told Reuters, adding that his shyness is often construed as arrogance, and he needs a lot of time alone before speaking in public

LONDON: Loose cannon or influential statesman — what kind of British prime minister would Boris Johnson make on the world stage? Judging by his time as foreign secretary, possibly both.
When Johnson was given the foreign job in 2016, after Britain voted to leave the EU, he was viewed as an unlikely choice by politicians and public alike given his tendency to court controversy with gaffes, oddball jokes and off-the-cuff remarks.
The early days seemed to confirm the worst fears of those who saw the Conservative lawmaker as an unsuitable diplomat, at a critical time when Britain needed to forge new political and commercial ties with a slew of countries.
What should have been a routine conference in Italy, the “Mediterranean Dialogues Forum” aimed at building relations with leading envoys from the West and Middle East, instead turned into something of a diplomatic incident.
The backlash was swift from Prime Minister Theresa May, who said his comments did not reflect “actual policy,” dishing out what a government source described as a shocking and very public “cuffing” for a senior minister.
Now May is stepping down over her failure to extract Britain from the European Union. Johnson, a leader of the Brexit campaign, is the overwhelming favorite to become leader of the governing Conservative Party next month, which would also make him prime minister.
The 55-year-old, famous for his messy mop of blond hair and dishevelled style, has turned upper-class English eccentricity into a political asset in Britain and perfected a personal brand based on a comic talent and a seemingly shambolic style.
His critics say this robs him of statesman-like gravity, arguing that it’s difficult to take seriously a man who once said the chance of him becoming prime minister was about as likely as finding Elvis on Mars.
However two of Johnson’s aides and another veteran Conservative who knows him said that he was often misunderstood and that beneath his blustering, self-confident demeanour was a shy, serious man focused on his goals.
He is a natural introvert, two sources close to his team told Reuters, adding that his shyness is often construed as arrogance, and he needs a lot of time alone before speaking in public — distinctively at odds with the public perception of Johnson being a natural, unscripted showman.
“Before speaking to a room, he needs to corral himself,” said the veteran Conservative. “It’s not a performance but it saps him of energy. He just needs to summon up the energy.”
One aide, a government source and an EU diplomat also pointed to an influential, but behind-the-scenes, role he played as foreign secretary following the poisoning of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, by a nerve agent last year in England.
One government source said Johnson had put his “shoulder to the wheel” to win international support for sanctions and Russian diplomatic expulsions from a long list of countries.
A senior European diplomat agreed that he was “professional” in this role, which attracted little publicity.
“People in Brussels didn’t take Boris seriously back then,” the diplomat said. “In March last year, he showed he could drop the clownish personality, he showed a will to discuss the Skripal affair in the most serious terms and to make the point to his counterparts that they needed to back Britain on this.”
Irreverent insurgent
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, to give his full name, is something of an enigma at home and abroad.
He is man of apparent contradictions, with his privileged background and bursts of Latin phrases seemingly at odds with his popular appeal when elected mayor of left-leaning London in 2008 with the biggest personal mandate in British history.
He is one of those rare politicians to be most commonly referred to by most members of the public by their first names.
Like US President Donald Trump, he can emerge unscathed from gaffes and scandals that would sink any normal public figure. Other offensive remarks he has made include calling black people “piccaninnies” and saying Muslim women wearing burkas “look like letter boxes.”
“Boris is a flawed character and flaky but most politicians are underneath,” said Ed Costelloe, chair of the campaign group Conservative Grassroots. “It would be lovely to have Mother Theresa as prime minister, but it ain’t going to happen.”
In fact, some people love him all the more because he appears to be an irreverent insurgent who defies the media training of polished politics, shooting from the hip with comic timing and flair. Others seem to give him more leeway.
The biggest task ahead, should he become leader, would be withdrawal talks with the EU, which has said it will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement agreed by May in November — a deal that was repeatedly rejected by British lawmakers and led to the original Brexit date of March 29 being pushed back.
Johnson has offended many in Europe, with remarks such as suggesting Italy should help with a Brexit deal to avoid losing out on sales of Prosecco sparkling wine and declaring it was “bollocks” to say that freedom of movement was a founding principle of the EU.
Yet the British government sources said his ability to wrestle changes to the deal from Brussels, as he has demanded, would come down to whether he can carry the support of British lawmakers and end a stalemate that has incensed EU officials.
“His success depends on whether the EU believes he can actually command a majority,” said one of the sources. “The thing about the PM was that they just didn’t believe she could ever get it through so were never going to give any more ground. If they think Boris can get it through, they might shift.”
It’s all about Brexit
Johnson has cast himself as the only leadership candidate who can deliver Brexit on the next deadline of Oct. 31 — with or without a deal.
The sources close his team said he was approaching his bid in a similarly quiet way to the Skripal manoeuvring. He has built support through behind-the-scenes talks with lawmakers rather through media appearances and speeches — and had been conspicuously absent from public sight until this week.
He has been listening closely to the counsel of his closest aides and veteran election strategist Lynton Crosby, who is not officially on the payroll but is offering advice.
Johnson’s strategy of steering clear of the airwaves and avoiding public head-to-head debates has been carefully thought through as part of a leadership campaign in the works for months in anticipation of May’s announcement five weeks ago that she would step down, said the sources.
The plan appeared uncharacteristic for a man who made his name by being highly visible, including appearing in comedy shows and one of Britain’s best-loved TV soap operas.
He even drew accusations from his only remaining leadership rival, Jeremy Hunt, of being a coward for avoiding head-to-head debates. Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said she found Johnson’s decision to ignore live TV debates “very odd.”
The strategy was partly borne of the fact that Johnson is widely viewed as a near-certainty to win the party leadership, and become prime minister, barring an unforeseen catastrophe.
Foreign Secretary Hunt voted to stay in the European Union in 2016, which is likely to count against him among the around 160,000 party members who will choose the winner and are mainly pro-Brexit.
However Johnson was forced to veer from the gameplan and break cover this week when he was faced with exactly the kind of negative publicity his team had hoped to avoid, after a neighbor called the police upon hearing Johnson and his girlfriend shouting and smashing plates.
Police found no cause for action, but the story dominated the front pages of Britain’s newspapers, with some questioning Johnson’s character and past — he is divorcing his second wife and has had several reported affairs.
Following the furor, he changed gear and launched into a media blitz on TV and radio.
Nonetheless, few in his party believe anything can seriously impede his cruise to 10 Downing Street.
“Boris is still well ahead with the membership who will ultimately decide who the next prime minister is,” said Conservative lawmaker and Johnson supporter Andrew Bridgen.
“The overriding issue is Brexit and unfortunately Jeremy voted remain.”