Hartford Council Begins Not With Prayer, But With Silence
Muslims asked not to pray before council meeting
By Jeff Cohen
September 13, 2010
The Hartford city council ended a week of confusion and controversy by beginning its council meeting Monday with a moment of silence – not with a prayer from a Muslim imam. WNPR’s Jeff Cohen reports.
“May we all rise for a moment of silence…”
That’s how Hartford city Council President rJo Winch began the council meeting, a week after she and the council’s minority leader got people talking. Last week, the two said in a press release that the council would begin its two meetings in September with prayers from Muslim clergy. Minority Leader Luis Cotto called it an act of solidarity just as some were threatening to burn the religion’s holy book.
The move brought a flood of hate mail to city hall. It even caused a split on the council, as some thought it a bad idea to honor Muslims so close to September 11th. Winch eventually changed course and decided to uninvite the Muslim clergy from Monday’s prayer. That left Imam Kashif Abdul-Karim from the Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford to pray outside.
“We are lumping together today 1.5 billion people as terrorists and extremists for something that a dozen people are guilty of. As a Muslim, and as an African-American, I thought that we had overcome a great portion of the oppression in society and the discrimination. I thought all of our civil rights were protected. It hurts me to relive this all again.”
At a public hearing before the council meeting, residents like blogger Kevin Brookman took the chance to tell the council he didn’t appreciate wasting city time on national issues.
“You need to represent us and our local issues and what’s driving the city into the ground. And I’m sympathetic to Mayor Segarra, because for every step he takes forward, this body takes him back four or five steps.”
For his part, Councilman Cotto said again that he thinks it is the city’s business to speak out against religious bigotry.