A Ramadan Iftar to remember- actually two iftars

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By: Dr. Aref Assaf
During the holy month of Ramadan, the fasting for Muslims worldwide, which began July 19, 2012, I had hoped to focus my energies on my spiritual needs. Truly, the fasting month affords me a rare opportunity to reassess what is important in my life and to refocus my moral and spiritual compasses.

But I am taking this temporary escape to share with you a couple of thoughts.

At the NJ Annual Governor’s Iftar July 24, 2012, (held at the Governor’s Mansion in Princeton) Governor Christie covered three topics in his 15 minute speech to the close to a hundred Muslim leaders in attendance. He recalled his successful push to get Sohail Mohammed to become a Superior Court judge, making him only the second Muslim to reach this milestone. The other topic was his position on the NYPD spying-a view I took strong exception to in a prior posting. But more welcome and perhaps unrehearsed and very sincere were his remarks, unambiguous and most poignant, about his respect for and support of Imam Mohammad Qatanani, who is facing a witch-hunt legal pursuit by the US government: (Video)

“In all my interactions with the imam, he has attempted to be a force for good in his community, in our state with law enforcement, with those of us who have gotten to know him over the years. I hope that what you see is a constant strain of conduct for me. I will judge people based upon their relationships with me and the way I observe them conduct themselves, and while there may be other issues at play and I will certainly consider those if other facts come in, I will tell you the folks who are my friends will continue to be my friends as long as they continue to conduct themselves with integrity and honesty and faith in common values and the things that make our state a better place.”

More recently, Shmuley Boteach, Republican candidate for D-9 in Northern NJ, paid an anti Muslim hate group to bring out Cong. Bill Pascrell’s friendship with the Imam as a reason not to vote for him. Well Shmuley, the head of the NJ Republican Party has spoken, and if I can use his type of lingo, “Shut up, idiot.” Candidate Shmuley has now officially lined himself with known Islamophobes who have made hating Muslims a thriving industry with a budget of over $50 million. Not only will Shmuley never get Arab and Muslim votes, but also he has lost his chances, remote as they were, of earning the trust and vote of decent Americans who will not be dissuaded by Shmuley’s now tainted record.

Laughingly, Shmuley has been claiming that he is the true friend of the Arabs, unlike his opponent Bill Pascrell. Both men are vying for the coveted congressional position to represent residents of the Ninth Congressional District in New Jersey, where large Arab and Muslim communities reside.

Shmuley recently went berserk as to attack me and misconstrue a quote I gave to the Jewish Standard recently. Shmuley, like a baby, is looking for my attention- and he will have to wait after Ramadan. As for his love of the Arabs and their aspirations, his is truly an unrequited love. And with friends like Shmuley, our community needs no more enemies.

It is worth noting that PolitickerNJ, the political junkie website has chosen Imam Qatanani as a winner for the past week’s selections precisely because he, and in spite of Shmuley’s attacks, garnered the Governor’s admiration and respect. “{B}ut this week, Christie’s public embrace of Imam Mohammad Qatanani – a key Pascrell supporter – in the face of Rabbi Shumley Boteach’s denunciation of the imam came as a direct indication of fracture between Christie and the Bergen GOP.”

The second amazing revelation was at the annual Iftar sponsored by the American Muslim Union and is held at the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson, where Republican senate candidate, Joseph Kyrollis unequivocally, and proudly shared his Arab Lebanese heritage-something he kept a secret for a long time until we took him to task in a recent column. Welcome home, “Yousef Khairullah.” I will have a lot more to say on this topic. Iftars have their mystical ways of delivering sober notes- spiritual and political.

Dr. Aref Assaf, president of American Arab Forum, a think tank specializing in Arab and Muslim affairs.

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