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.


Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

Updated 22 September 2019
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Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the vice president talks about her frosty relationship with Duterte and the need to ensure OFW rights

MANILA: She is one of his most vocal critics, while he never misses an opportunity to mock her in public speeches across the Philippines.

But when it comes to upholding the sanctity of their office, both President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo ensure they bring a finely scripted civility to the table.

“I do not meet him often. I do not get invited to functions in the presidential palace, but I get invited to military events. I try as much as I can to attend ... and I see the president there. Our meetings have always been cordial. The president has been very civil when we see each other,” Robredo said in an exclusive interview with Arab News in Manila.

Robredo was elected separately to Duterte and was not his running mate. Amid rumors that she is the obvious choice to take on the mantle once Duterte finishes his term, Robredo says that she is not ready to rule out the idea just yet.

“I do not rule it out completely only because of what happened during the last two elections where I ruled out running for Congress and I ruled out running for the vice-presidency, and I had to eat my words after that,” she said, adding that as far as the Philippines is concerned, it’s all about “destiny.”

“Our history has shown that a lot of people have aspired for the presidency, but have not been successful. And we have had a lot of presidents who won the elections where they had not prepared as much as the other candidates. It is something that will be given to you if it is really meant for you. So there is no point in preparing for it at this point,” she said.

 

In recent years, Robredo and Duterte have had a frosty relationship over issues ranging from the government’s controversial war on drugs to the Philippines ties with China.

 

Recently, Robredo called out Duterte for his “shoot, but don’t kill” orders.

The president made his comments on Thursday during the inauguration of the Bataan government center and business hub dubbed “The Bunker,” urging Filipinos to “shoot but not kill” public officials who were demanding money in exchange for their services and vowing to defend any person who attacked a corrupt official.

The statement drew flak from several rights organizations and, most significantly, from the vice president herself.

“I do not agree with killings per se, whether they are against drug addicts or corrupt officials. We have laws; we have the judicial system, and we should make sure that we have a strong judicial system, safe from political intrusion and corruption,” she said.

Robredo also explained why she has been at loggerheads with Duterte over his stance on the South China Sea.

Last week, she described as “reckless” his suggestion that he would consider bypassing an arbitration ruling — in favor of the Philippines — over a territorial dispute with China in order to finalize an energy pact with Beijing.

“I have always been vocal about statements by the president, which may be interpreted in a manner that would be against the constitution. It has been the reason of some friction between us. There has been a lot of confusion as far as the seriousness of the president’s remarks is concerned. Whenever he makes controversial statements, some officials around him try to correct those statements,” she said, adding that her retorts have “been a source of criticism from many of the president’s supporters.”

Adding to their constant tug-of-war is the issue of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and sending manpower to countries in the Middle East.

The issue intensified with the murder of 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait last year. A Syrian woman, one of Demafelis’ employers, was found guilty of her murder this month.

Following the incident, the Philippines placed a ban on sending workers to Kuwait.

Duterte lifted the ban after Demafelis’ killer was tried, and there have been efforts to negotiate the terms and conditions of labor contracts by both the countries.

“The issues in Kuwait became a little too unbearable and we entered into a memorandum of agreement last year ... it was a reaction to many of the complaints that overseas Filipinos in Kuwait have. Some say that their passports are being confiscated by employers as soon as they reach Kuwait, and there are complaints about the working conditions, hours, etc,” Robredo said.

However, the agreement was a “short-term” initiative and a more formal bilateral agreement would have been “better in the sense that both countries will be made accountable,” she said.

“This is our desire not just in Kuwait, but also in many other parts of the Middle East, and in Saudi Arabia for example, where most of our Filipino workers are. There has been a UN convention on the protection of the rights of overseas workers — migrant workers — but, unfortunately, most of the countries hosting our migrant workers are not signatories to that convention yet,” she said.

Robredo described the agreement a “work in progress,” saying “it is something that we have been working on for several years.”

The Philippines signed two agreements with Saudi Arabia — the first in 2015, and another two years later —  on labor contracts and recruitment.

According to the Philippines Statistics Authority, the Kingdom continued to be the top destination for OFWs until May this year, with an estimated 2.3 million Filipinos working there.

Remittances from the period totalled P235.9 billion ($4.5 billion), up from P205.2 billion a year earlier.

“It is our desire that the countries hosting our migrant workers will be signatories to the UN convention because at the very least, the basic rights of our workers will be protected. It is something that not just our Foreign Affairs Department is working on, but our Labor Department as well,” she said, adding that this and a few other issues are subjects on which she and the president agree.

In June this year, when both Robredo and Duterte entered the final stretch of their six-year terms, the vice president said that she wanted a “better working relationship” with the president.

It is a sentiment that she voiced strongly while talking to Arab News as well.

“I think if our meetings are to be the gauge of our relationship, we are OK. It is just that there have been a lot of side remarks, issues and criticisms outside of our meetings that I think complicates the relationship,” she said.