On Tuesday, July 30, CAIR Oklahoma and private community leaders organized the third annual Interfaith Iftar Dinner, sponsored and hosted by Oklahoma House of Representatives member Emily Virgin of Norman, and Oklahoma State Senators Tom Ivestor and John Sparks of Sayre and Norman, respectively.

Zia Muneer served as the master of ceremonies and introduce the evening’s special guest speakers. Representative Virgin addressed those in attendance and stated her appreciation and anticipation of the annual event.

Don Betz, current president of the University of Central Oklahoma and former United Nations non-governmental organizational diplomat on matters of Middle East issues, served as the keynote speaker for the evening. Dr. Betz reflected on his many trips and personal connections to the Middle East, as well as his deep respect and understanding of Islam and its adherent; he provided an historical context to America’s relationship with the region, in that Morocco became the first foreign nation to recognize the newly independent states.

Following the inspiring keynote of Dr. Betz, representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths spoke on the history and traditions of fasting. The Reverend Dr. William Tabbernee, President of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches spoke on similarities of the Muslim and early Christian fasting customs. Dr. Charles Kimball, Director of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma provided the Jewish context of the Day of Atonement, in which fasting is observed to bring those who fast closer to God.

Closing out the Abrahamic traditions was Imam Dr. Imad Enchassi of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City. Imam Enchassi expressed that Muslims also fast to bring themselves closer to God, and it encourages compassion and empathy for those who are less fortunate and hungry because they cannot afford to buy food. The imam also spoke and stressed how Muslims are commanded by the Qur’an to honor Jews and Christians as fellow “People of the Book.” Dr. Enchassi further highlighted the three chapters of the Muslim Holy Book that referenced the other great prophets of Islam and how often they are mentioned: Abraham, 71 times, Moses, 169 times, and Jesus 25 times. The Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) is mentioned four times.

After the religious leaders spoke, Ali Farzaneh issued a beautiful call to prayer, in which Muslim guests adhered to their prayer obligations, and a delicious dinner followed.

The event offered a solemn but festive atmosphere, with people of all faiths, races, and ethnicities warmly greeting one another and introducing family and friends to one another. Guests of the third annual iftar included community and interfaith religious pillars, prominent physicians and business leaders from throughout the state, as well as Oklahoma City councilmen Ed Shadid and others, and state legislators such as Representative Anastasia Pittman. More than 180 people attended this special event.

William F. O’Brien is a retired Oklahoma City attorney.