The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held its 6th annual banquet Saturday at the Tampa Convention Center. Speakers included Georgetown University professor John Esposito and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim in Congress.
Following prayers, about 600 people gathered to hear about the theme American Muslims: Defining Ourselves. Ellison said that during the recent presidential campaign, others groups attempted to define Islam and what it means to be Muslim. Many even tried to define Barack Obama as a Muslim, but the strategy didn't work, Ellison said.
Ellison detailed some of the challenges that Muslims faced during the campaign, including two Muslim women wearing hijabs being forbidden by the Obama campaign from standing behind the candidate at a Detroit rally.
One way that non-Muslims tried to define Muslims during the campaign was through mass distribution of the DVD Obsession, which characterizes some members of the faith as violent extremists. But a University of South Florida religious studies graduate student, Catherine Lafuente, said propaganda like that won't influence her. She is not a Muslim and her father died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
John Esposito is a professor of religion, international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University. His most recent book is, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. Esposito said that a CAIR poll from two years ago pointed out the recent "political mainstreaming" of American Muslims.
Muslim-Americans worry about many of the same things that other Americans do, Esposito said.
Several Tampa Bay elected officials attended Saturday's banquet, including Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White and his newly elected colleague Kevin Beckner, Hillsborough School Board member Susan Valdes, and Temple Terrace Mayor Joe Affronti, who received a bridge builder award.
A civil rights award was presented to the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, and WMNF received a community service award. Maritza Betancourt is the city of Tampa's Human Rights Investigator in the Division of Community Affairs. She read a proclamation from Mayor Pam Iorio.
"By virtue of the authority vested in me as mayor of the city of Tampa, I do hereby proclaim November 15, 2008, as ‘Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Day' in the city of Tampa, Florida."