On Tuesday, June 20, a sizable group gathered in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. for an interfaith iftar on World Refugee Day.
Iftar is a traditional evening meal for Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan—a time when the faithful fast from dawn to sunset every day.
The event was organized by Islamic Relief USA, a nonprofit humanitarian organization whose mission is to alleviate suffering, hunger, illiteracy and disease regardless of color, race, gender or creed, and to provide aid in a compassionate and dignified manner.
During the dinner, Islamic Relief USA honored HIAS “for their tireless work assisting refugees and for standing up against the refugee ban in the court of law.”
Islamic Relief was one of the many organizations to join an interfaith amicus brief by religious organizations supporting HIAS’ litigation in opposition to the ban.
Anwar Khan, CEO of Islamic Relief USA, presented HIAS with his organization’s Courage Award.
“Welcoming immigrants, welcoming refugees. These are not ‘liberal values.’ These are traditional American values,” Khan said. He urged all those present to continue working together to make the world a better place.
HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield took the stage to accept the award on HIAS’ behalf.
“All the Abrahamic faiths are united by the value of hospitality and welcoming the stranger as ourselves, for we were all once strangers in a strange land,” Hetfield said, noting that both HIAS and Islamic Relief USA help people based on need, not creed, even as they are both driven by their faiths to do such work.
“When we welcome refugees to the United States, we consider them to be part of our family and our community, no matter what their faith is,” Hetfield added. “This is because Jewish Americans are a refugee people – there would be no American Jewish community had America not had the courage to open its doors to refugees.”
The Islamic Relief award was not the only honor Hetfield accepted around World Refugee Day this year.
On Thursday, June 15, Hetfield was in Minnesota to accept the 2017 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award from The Advocates for Human Rights, a Minneapolis-based organization working to build the human rights movement on the global and local level.
The honor was presented as part of the Human Rights Award Dinner, an annual event that recognizes individuals dedicated to “The Advocates’ mission of changing the world for good by implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law.”
As Hetfield said at the iftar in Washington, D.C., HIAS’ motivations come not just from the Jewish command to welcome the stranger but also from the historical experiences of the Jewish people.
“There are moments when America acted out of fear, when this country shut its doors to refugees, with many other countries following our example and doing the same. During those times, millions, with nowhere to flee, were trapped inside of a genocide.”
“We promised never again would that happen, and we mean never again for everyone.”