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Islamic Relief Celebrates Diversity and Inclusivity at US Capitol Iftar

Back In Person

By Minhaj Hassan

Islamic Relief USA held an in-person iftar on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, April 26, as Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, wound down to its final week. While staffers from several offices of Congress were treated to delectable finger foods and an opportunity to network with peers, the event inadvertently showed the progress made in getting more young people from minority populations to work in the Nation’s Capitol, which over the years hasn’t exactly served as a hallmark of diversity. 

Jihad Saleh Williams, IRUSA’s longtime Senior Government Relations Adviser, said from his own time in and around the Capitol, he has seen the number of Muslim staffers more than double to some 150. 

Rep. Andre Carson, (D-Indiana), said it was a “blessing” to be attending an iftar in person. He said lately there have been more conversations about “being an other.” While he noted there’s more work to do for greater representation, “we are making strides.” 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) said the fight for civil rights for minority populations must continue. She pointed out her own efforts in fighting for Muslims’ rights, which came under threat following the 9/11 attacks and other controversial incidents, such as the travel ban. 

“Twenty years later, we’re still fighting the same battles,” she said, describing the Capitol iftar as “a quest for us to bring more folks in.” She highlighted the positive qualities Ramadan brings out, such as spirituality, sacrifice, and community. She expressed gratitude for the work Islamic Relief USA does in reducing inequity. “Thank you for all the work you do in lifting Muslims in every sphere.”

Rep. Marie Newman (D-Illinois) mentioned her district has many Muslims, mostly of Arab and South Asian descent. She expressed appreciation at how these communities rallied during the early, darkest days of the Covid-19 pandemic. “If you needed food, the mosque would open in the middle of the night,” she said. “This community took care of all  of us.”

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts), who was in the middle of her own multi-day fast, said the experience has provided her strength and enlightenment “during a time of unprecedented challenges.” She commended Muslim staffers, some of whom work for her, for helping “to keep things moving.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib  (D-Michigan), who hosted the event,  praised Islamic Relief USA’s work around the country, including the work it did in providing bottled water during the Flint water crisis in 2016. During the course of the pandemic, the organization has partnered with over 240 community-based groups to increase food security and access to health care.

“You’re chipping away at the stereotypes,” Tlaib told the crowd. “You’re showing up for so many communities across our nation.” Tlaib also highlighted the increasing numbers of Muslim staffers at the U.S. Capitol, saying it makes her emotional at times when she comes across them. “We look at each other, and we nod,” she said. “More are coming. We’re not going anywhere.”

IRUSA President Anwar Khan said the organization’s work is based on universal principles embedded in Islam. 

“We’re here to help not because they’re Muslim,” he said about the people who’re helped by the organization’s programs. “We’re here to help because we’re Muslim.”

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