Hartford Council Members Call Off Prayers During September
By JENNA CARLESSO
September 14, 2010
HARTFORD — Members of the city council have called off all pre-meeting prayers during September, opting instead for a moment of silence.
The move came nearly a week after members of the panel announced they would welcome local imams to lead Islamic invocations at the start of two meetings this month. Following their announcement, city hall was inundated with phone calls and e-mails from angry residents.
"Our cure for September is that we all participate in a moment of silence," said council President rJo Winch. "It's my responsibility to represent all the religions we have in Hartford."
But local Muslim leaders say the council's refusal to allow them to pray before the meetings sends the message that Muslims in Connecticut are connected to the Sept. 11, 200, terrorist attacks.
To protest the council's decision to call off the invocations, a resident imam and members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Connecticut staged a protest Monday in the form of a prayer vigil. Dozens of people gathered outside city hall a half-hour before the council meeting to watch.
"We feel strongly about what took place over the last 10 days," said Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Connecticut. "We did not start this confrontation or this controversy."
He said the protest was called to "defeat the notion that Muslims in Hartford … had anything to do with 9/11."
"We did not," he said.
Kashif Abdul-Karim, the resident imam for the Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford, had been invited to lead a prayer service at Monday's meeting. But with the turn of events, he instead delivered that prayer just outside city hall.
He spoke out against the stereotypes associated with Muslims.
"We are lumping together 1.5 billion people as terrorist and extremist for something a dozen people are guilty of," he said.
Councilman Luis Cotto, who has said he supports having the imams lead the invocations, expressed disappointment Monday over the council's decision to cancel the prayers.
He said the outpouring of angry e-mails and voicemails — many of which he characterized as racist and hateful — demonstrate "exactly who we are up against."
"One guy responded, 'We won,' and it was one of the hardest e-mails …" he said, but stopped as he broke into tears.
Winch dismissed claims Monday that council members had linked local Muslims to the events of Sept. 11. She said she and others are trying to be sensitive to those who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks.
"It's a hard call. I've got to consider everybody's feelings," she said.
At the start of their meeting, council members bowed their heads and shared in a moment of silence. Behind them, a sign read, "Welcome. We are building an inclusive community."
"I can't get everyone of all religions in the room to pray, but I can get everyone in the room to be silent," Winch said. "[The local imams] had an invitation that should have never been extended."
Next month, the council will return to its rotation of religious invocations at meetings, she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at