By Maham Haq –
About 200 people of all faiths gathered May 17 at Pearl’s Banquet Hall in Mesa, Arizona, for the CelebrateMercy Benefit Dinner. The theme of the dinner was the celebration of the character of Prophet Muhammad. It bookended a weekend-long class on the life of the Prophet. The dinner was hosted by CelebrateMercy, a non-profit organization founded in Cincinnati, Ohio, in February 2010 by Tarek El-Messidi, a social entrepreneur and credited co-founder of Fast-A-Thon, a fundraising event that encourages people of other faiths to fast one day during Ramadan. CelebrateMercy’s aim is to educate people of all faiths about the life and character of the Prophet through interactive webcasts and videos featuring globally renowned scholars in hopes that education will instill a respect for the Prophet and dispel common stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam. Today, its webcasts reach 10,000 viewers in nearly 100 countries.
The event began with a short recitation of the Qur’an by Didmar Faja. Throughout the night, a biography of Prophet Muhammad was read, interspersed with performances by Nasheed artists, Mouaz Al-Nass and Emmad Qadri, along with short talks by six globally renowned scholars including Hassan Elwan, Muslim Purmul, Ubaydullah Evans, Siraj Wahhaj and Watheq Alobaidi.
According to El-Messidi, of all of the banquets the organization has held around the country, they had never seen, even in CelebrateMercy’s home city, the kind of collaboration and unity among the Muslims of any community as they had seen in Arizona. A total of 11 Mosques and Muslim non-profit organizations came together to sponsor this banquet for CelebrateMercy, among them MAS Arizona, CAIR Arizona, ICC Tempe, ASU Muslim Student Association, Arizona Cultural Academy and Good Tree.
“I like how CelebrateMercy has such a different way to express their love for the prophet,” said Fabiha Alam of Tempe, who also attended the weekend class offered by CelebrateMercy at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe. In reference to the weekend class, Alam explained, “They taught it so well and made it easy to relate to and I am so glad I signed up for it. I learned so much. I also love how CelebrateMercy has such an artistic way of delivering their messages; it’s not just lectures.”
Part of this artistic delivery was the interspersed Nasheed performances during the event. The audience appeared captivated and increasingly engaged. Much of the audience even chimed in on Nasheeds they were familiar with, igniting the room in song and contributing to a lively environment.
“The way [CelebrateMercy] teaches the event is unlike any other. Rather than a general approach, they emphasize making it very practical. This event in particular dealt with reciting the [life] of the Prophet and each section had a very relatable aspect,” said Ridhwaan Syed of Tempe. “The charming speakers also drew many parallels between the [life of the Prophet] and their own lives and thus reinforced the idea that Islam is very much a part of our daily lives.”
The event was particularly pertinent in light of the recent shooting at a Dallas event that included a drawing contest of the Prophet. Guest speaker Evans expressed his belief that the actions of the shooters can be explained by the fact that they may not have been exposed to missions like this. “This is a way of talking about [Prophet Muhammad’s] legacy and defending his honor in a way that is not destructive and not violent,” said Evans. He believes an event like this can show people how to respond in a more knowledgeable and Islamic manner to those who misunderstand Islam. “CelebrateMercy is keeping alive the most essential sunnah of the prophet: to inspire love,” said Evans.