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Salaam Cleveland Annual Fundraiser and Community Dinner

Margaret W. Wong & Associates" bought a table to the "Salaam Cleveland" annual fundraiser and community dinner which took place on Saturday evening, March 4th, at the Student Center at CSU so we were happy to attend this celebration with our co-workers, Mr. George Koussa and Ms. Elizabeth Cusma.

The "Welcome" was given by our good friend, Mr. Murat Gurer from the Turkish American Association of Cleveland. Mr. Gurer said that 'Salaam Cleveland' is an organization that has "reached out to less privileged members of our local community, as well as refugees who are fleeing from war and torture in their home countries including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Somalia, and more recently Syria. 'Salaam Cleveland's' mission to serve has created an impressive spirit of volunteerism among young Muslim students who are taking their time off to help refugees and others in need. The organization has now taken a bold step and established its own refugee resettlement center-the first Muslim charitable organization in Cleveland to do so. This work has generated tremendous public support good will and interfaith support for Muslims living in the greater Cleveland area. For its outstanding work, 'Saalam Cleveland received the White House Commendation Letter from President Obama in 2013." 

We read in the souvenir program that what "Salaam Cleveland" seeks to do is to promote understanding between people of different faiths and ethnicities; establish charitable activities; guide, educate, and nurture refugees in their resettlement; and arrange multi-cultural social and education event. Specifically, its activities include health fairs and screenings; providing food, blankets and holiday gifts to shelters; supporting Cleveland hunger, heart and diversity walks; providing domestic violence education and outreach to victims; and conducting programs to educate the community on healthy living and disease prevention. 

Much of the success of "Salaam Cleveland" is due to the dedication and hard work of Mr. Zahid Siddiqi and Ms. Zarina Siddiqi (husband and wife) who played essential roles in the founding of the organization in 2002-2003 and expanding its scope over the years. They received several moving tributes from speakers that included Imam Ahmed Abbas and Mr. Joe Cimperman. Imam Abbas said that it was amazing how the efforts two individuals can make so much of a difference and Mr. Cimperman praised them by saying that their efforts have made Cleveland a better community and remind us of what it means to be a great nation.

When it came time for Mr. Zahid and Ms. Zarina Siddiqi to ascend the podium and be honored, their daughter spoke on her mother's behalf and said that Mrs. Siddiqi believed that it was great to see so many young people having a passion for community service and that she looked forward to working with them all now and in the future.

Later, Ms. Shahnaz Khan and Mr. Arshan Khalid both spoke and made use of a slide show to illustrate some of the programs of "Salaam Cleveland" and we were particularly interested to learn about its refugee programs since it between 2003 and 2016 it has assisted some 650 families. One such program is the Subba (companions) Project whose goals are match one refugee family with a local family; foster deeper connection that welcomes our refugees as neighbors; and enable integration into community and American society. At this point five Syrian families have been paired with local families.

During a break in the program we enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Imam Ahmed Abbas about Mr. Mahershala Ali, the actor who just won a very deserved Academy Award for his performance in "Moonlight" and is the first Muslim actor/actress to be so honored. We also spoke with Ms. Haneen Abbas, a refugee from Iraq whose beautiful art (along with that of her sister, Ms. Kubra Abbas, and their father) was on display outside in the foyer.

We especially like the opening prayers/call to unity that were given by Reverend Tricia Hart, Interim Minister at "Westshore Unitarian Universalist Church" in Rocky River and Pastor Matthew Wald of the "Granger United Methodist Church" in Medina.

Rev. Hart said that these were indeed "challenging day for all of us" because the U.S. has for so long been known as a place that welcomed those who came here for reasons of safety and opportunity just as her ancestors did who immigrated here from Ireland. The fact that many people are now viewing those of an ethnicity different from their own as "the other" very much concerned her. Rev. Hart thus urged us to "keep our hearts and minds open and hope that our voices will be heard amidst the noise" and went on to say that Scriptures indicate that "the Stranger" should be welcomed.

Pastor Wald noted that what was assembled at CSU that night was a diverse group which had come together for a common purpose of welcoming refugees who were fleeing from violence. He asked that we be empowered to tell others about how, by helping refugees, we help ourselves too.


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC