CAIR-Philly Sold-Out Banquet a Rousing Success!

This past Saturday night, March 11th, nearly a thousand CAIR supporters, Muslim community leaders, Jewish and Christian clergy, and elected officials, including Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf, joined together at our sold-out Eleventh Annual Banquet to celebrate the accomplishments of CAIR-Philadelphia.

With a theme this year of “Revelation and Resistance,” the 2017 banquet stressed the deep connection between our spiritual lives and the movements for social justice.

The banquet began with a one-hour informal visit by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and First Lady Frances to the opening reception.  The Governor wandered around the room talking with community members, listened to their concerns, and graciously posed for photographs. His presence at our banquet was a statement about his core values of inclusiveness in the face of Islamophobic exclusion, but also a validation of CAIR’s influence as an intermediary for the Muslim community.  The Governor’s visit reminds us that our government listens to our concerns and can serve our needs when we remain active and united.

(L-R: First Lady Frances Wolf; PA State Senator Sharif Street; CAIR-Philly Vice President Iftekhar Hussain; Governor Tom Wolf; CAIR-Philly Outreach Chair Carlin Saafir, Esq.; CAIR-Philly Executive Director Jacob Bender; Linda Sarsour; CAIR-Philly Banquet Chair Sally Selim; CAIR-Philadelphia Secretary Nivine Rihawi; CAIR-Philly President Osama Al-Qasem.)

Banquet Master of Ceremonies Aliya Khabir (below, left) opened the banquet program, followed by an inspirational reading from the Holy Qur’an by Shaikh Abdul Hadi Shehata (below, right) of the Islamic Society of Delaware and PA State Senator Sharif Street (below, center) addressed the crowd.

This year’s banquet also featured another dramatic presentation directed by CAIR’s own impresario, Executive Director Jacob Bender, with a parade of banquet guests marching around the banquet hall with signs reading “Save the Earth,” “Islam = Peace,” “Allah Loves Mercy,” and “No Muslim Ban” among other slogans.

At the conclusion of the march, Jacob introduced our new staff member, Advocacy and Outreach Manager Al-Sharif Nassef to the banquet audience, and both expounded on the banquet theme of “Revelation and Resistance.” Jacob concluded his remarks with these words: “And resistance is all of us in this room, uniting in the face of the purveyors of hate and bigotry and fear and ignorance, as we struggle for an America where ‘all humans are created equal, endowed with the inalienable rights of life and liberty.'” (Read Jacob’s full remarks; PDF)

(L-R: CAIR-Philadelphia Supporter and Eid Coalition member Michael Rashid; CAIR-Philly Executive Director Jacob Bender; CAIR-Philly Advocacy and Outreach Manager Al-Sharif Nassef)

Next, ten community members*, including Jewish and Christian clergy and public officials, spoke in turn from the banquet floor about the importance of community coalition building in the Trump era. Rabbi Linda Holtzman stated “Never again will we allow Jews and Muslims to be manipulated into competing with each other. Today, with anti-Semites and Islamophobes entrenched in the current administration, our two communities must stand together against the forces of division and hate.” This portion of the banquet concluded with an inspirational address by Pennsylvania’s first Muslim-American State Senator Sharif Street, who spoke about the founding principles of the American Republic and their connection to Qur’anic values. The values, Street said, are now under attack by the voices of hatred in the new Administration in Washington, and to defeat them it is necessary that we build bridges, not walls.

In a motivational speech Michael Rashid of the Philadelphia Eid Coalition exhorted the audience to financially support CAIR, with the result that over $175,000 in donations and pledges was collected during the evening.

Banquet keynoter Linda Sarsour took the stage and roused the audience with a stirring speech that explained the linked oppressions of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, and homophobia, and called for more engaged political action from the Muslim community and its allies.

CAIR-Philadelphia’s 2017 Annual Banquet was then brought to a close with almost uncontrollable laughter while listening to the uproarious Palestinian-American comedian Amer Zahr, who brought waves of laughter to remind us to stay light-hearted in the face of adversity.

We’d like to thank our community again for their generosity. Know that CAIR will continue to do its best to defend the Muslim community, advancing in solidarity with our allies of shared truth and values, continuing to develop as an influential force for civil rights and justice.

However, we are still short of our $250,000 goal. To support CAIR-Philadelphia’s mission and help us reach our goal, please consider making a one-time donation or signing up for our “Dollar-a-Day” program.

TOMORROW, March 16, Amazon will donate 5% (10 times the usual donation rate) of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to CAIR-Philadelphia. Get started at

?* Special thanks to: Ejaz Sabir (Attorney), Salima Suswell (Community Activist and CAIR-Philadelphia Executive Committee Member), Eyad Takedine (Businessman), Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Keimer (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College), Rabbi Linda Holtzman (Tikkun Olam Chavurah), Imtiaz Chaudhry, MD (Ophthalmologist and Bensalem Masjid), Reverend Laurie Sweigard (Central Baptist Church, Wayne), Rue Landau (Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations), Noor Jemy (Philadelphia MSA Council)