Butte College Students Host Human Rights Iftar

This event marked the inaugural student-led Amnesty International USA Human Rights Iftar, an interfaith campaign aimed at fostering connections between the community and its Muslim members.
Lana Hadeed (President of Butte College SWANASA Chapter) serving guests // April 2 2024 // Photo taken by Maren Peterson

Gold lanterns adorned the stunning outdoor landscape of The Palms Venue and Villa as students and local community members gathered to commemorate the 23rd night of Ramadan. Hosted by the Butte College chapter of SWANASA Advocates and the Chico State chapter of Amnesty International, the event welcomed Muslim community members alongside guests representing a variety of faiths and cultures for a Human Rights Iftar.

This event marked the inaugural student-led Amnesty International USA Human Rights Iftar, an interfaith campaign aimed at integrating advocacy into the holy month of Ramadan while simultaneously fostering connections between the community and its Muslim members.

Guests gathered to break their fast at The Palms // April 2 2024 // Photo taken by Maren Peterson

As guests entered the hall, they were warmly welcomed by Maren Petersen, President of Chico State Amnesty, and Kimiya Yousefi, Vice President of SWANASA Advocates at Butte College. At their table, an array of resources centered around Amnesty International’s “Ceasefire Now Campaign” awaited, including petitions that rapidly garnered a total of 131 signatures!

Reflecting on their experience, Yousefi recounted an encounter with two women who expressed gratitude for their efforts while signing the petitions. “It’s an incredibly gratifying feeling to know that the work we’re doing is genuinely impacting people worldwide,” Yousefi remarked. “Their appreciation motivates me to persist in our endeavors!”

Kimiya Yousefi (left) and Maren Peterson (right) collecting petitions for Amnesty International’s Ceasefire Now Campaign // April 2 2024 // Photo taken by Shaheera Abbasi

The evening commenced with a Teach-In on Apartheid, led by Eran Zelnik, an Israeli Chico State professor involved in local advocacy efforts. Zelnik reflected on the event, underscoring the urgent need to champion human rights. “Now more than ever we must focus on our shared human values across religions and ethnic backgrounds and fight for justice from Chico to Gaza!”

Eran Zelnik leading a Teach-In on Apartheid In Palestine // April 2 2024 // Photo taken by Shaheera Abbasi

For many attendees, this discussion served as a poignant reminder of the ongoing Palestinian suffering.

At 82 years old, Emily Alma stands out as the youngest member of the Chico Palestine Action Group. She expressed profound gratitude for the dedication of young adults in striving to end the violence across Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. Alma’s remarks poignantly underscored her sense of shame regarding her country’s complicity in this genocide. “The members of SWANASA are passionate, brilliant young people,” Alma added. “They give me hope for our future.”

For individuals like Claire Fong, SWANASA Advocates has played a crucial role in providing their first tangible exposure to the challenges faced by Southwest Asian, North African, and South Asian communities.

Fong expressed deep appreciation, stating,  My heart aches for the Palestinian people and the unspeakable atrocities they endure. I am thankful for groups like SWANASA, which share their culture and lived experiences within our community.”

Prior to October 7, Fong acknowledged having only a superficial understanding of the situation in Gaza, but since then, she has actively sought opportunities to deepen her comprehension of its history. She emphasized the transformative effect of SWANASA’s presence on social media and at in-person events, which has provided a human face to a situation that may otherwise feel abstract or distant from their lives.

Local Chico community members of various faiths and ethnicities gathered at the end of the night in an effort to support student-led advocacy // April 2 2024 // Photo taken by Shaheera Abbasi

At precisely 7:30, the discussion concluded, and guests were warmly invited to join the Muslim community in breaking their fast amidst the serene outdoor setting. While some participants fasted in solidarity, others dedicated their day to preparing dishes to accommodate the Halal diet adhered to by Muslims. The diverse spread featured Vegetarian Maklouba, showcasing seasoned rice and vegetables, alongside Afghan Borani Banjan, a delectable eggplant dish, and Sholezard, a cherished Iranian rice pudding.

As volunteers busily prepared the dishes for serving, Yaseer Hashimi, an Afghan Chico State student, led the adhan, marking the moment for the fast to be broken.

Yaseer Hashemi leading the Adhan // April 2 2024 // Photo taken by Maren Peterson

Beginning with the customary date and water traditionally used to break the fast, guests proceeded to enjoy dinner. Rasha Saleh, a respected member of the local Chico Muslim community, guided the guests through the food line, generously explaining each dish. Among them was her renowned Palestinian Maklouba, which proved to be a favorite, disappearing by the end of the evening!

Rasha Saleh teaching Emily Alma about her Palestinian Maklouba // April 2 2024 // Photo taken by Maren Peterson

One of the first guests in the dinner line was 2nd grader Siraj Hadeed, who had just completed his 23rd consecutive day of fasting for Ramadan.

His mother, Lamis, shared their story of attending and supporting SWANASA Advocates’ events, starting with the very first vigil in October. “As a mother, it’s my responsibility to instill in my children a connection to their roots,” Lamis explained. “What better way to do that than by involving my oldest in community events? I’ve never seen my 8-year-old more determined to observe Ramadan fasting than this year. Being involved in this community has helped him understand the importance of standing up for his country and being proud of his Palestinian heritage.”

Siraj Hadeed teaching his class about Ramadan the following day // April 3 2024 // Photo taken by Shaheera Abbasi

Just around the corner, 7-year-old Jojo was putting the finishing touches on her rock painting. Accompanied by her mother, Jenna Nunley, they decided to attend the event after discovering it through social media. Jojo, who has Iranian heritage, has had limited opportunities to engage in cultural events in the area, according to Nunley. Despite this being their first SWANASA event, Jojo took the initiative to organize the “Kids Corner,” a childcare space for parents attending the discussion. She thoughtfully arranged paints, palettes, and rocks, an interactive activity planned by SWANASA Advocates, with the intention of showcasing their creations during the Eid event hosted by the local Muslim community on April 14th.

Children gathered at the Rock Painting table // April 2 2024 // Photos taken by Shaheera Abbasi (top) and Kimiya Yousefi (bottom)

While guests settled into their seats, lively conversations filled the air, reflecting their appreciation for the delectable cuisine and the palpable sense of community enveloping them. Although the moment couldn’t be fully captured through a lens, Maren Peterson eagerly documented the evening from every angle. As she readies herself for the launch of the Chico State Amnesty chapter in the forthcoming academic year, Peterson’s collaboration with SWANASA Advocates exemplifies her dedication to meaningful activism. Recounting the evening’s impact, Peterson expressed, “Tuesday’s event provided an enlightening opportunity to immerse myself in the vibrant Muslim community and culture in Chico. Given the ongoing atrocities in Palestine, this event held particular significance, fostering solidarity and facilitating valuable learning experiences from our knowledgeable guest speakers and each other.”

Maren Peterson documenting the evening // April 2 2024 // Photo taken by Shaheera Abbasi

As the night came to a close, and the echoes of shared laughter and meaningful conversations faded into the gentle night breeze, a profound sense of unity lingered among the attendees. The golden lanterns, now casting soft glows against the darkening sky, seemed to symbolize not just the illumination of knowledge and understanding but also the enduring hope for a brighter, more inclusive future. In the warmth of camaraderie and the spirit of activism, each guest departed, carrying with them not only memories of delicious food and vibrant cultural exchange but also a renewed commitment to stand in solidarity with those whose voices may often go unheard. As the stars twinkled overhead, they served as silent witnesses to the transformative power of community, empathy, and shared humanity, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of all who were present on this unforgettable night of connection and compassion.

The Palms Venue and Villa at night // April 2 2024 // Photo taken by Maren Peterson
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Shaheera Abbasi
Shaheera Abbasi, Staff Writer
Shaheera is a third-year International Relations major whose writing aims to raise awareness on South West Asian North African and South Asian cultures and communities.
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