Mubarakah Ibrahim walked to her table for dinner. She noticed that no other African-American women appeared to be in the room. And she noticed the name of the diner seated next to her: President Barack Obama.
That dinner took place last week in the White House. Ibrahim—a well-known New Haven entrepreneur, international fitness guru, cultural bridge-builder, FOO (Friend of Oprah, on whose show she appeared), and devout Muslim—was an invited guest at the president’s annual “iftar,” or breaking-of-the-fast, dinner for Muslim movers and shakers during the month of Ramadan. Muslims fast from sunup to sundown the entire month.
Back in New Haven, Ibrahim invited dozens of people Thursday night to her Balance Fitness studio in the third floor of a former factory building on Davenport Avenue to break another day’s fast—and hear about her memorable trip to the White House.
Obama greeted more than 100 Muslims from around the country at the June 25 dinner with a speech. (Click on the video to watch it.) Then he sat down at one of many tables in the room, next to Ibrahim. He and the others at the table spoke about the challenges facing small businesses, among other topics, over a 45-minute meal that featured a lamb entree.
Before the meal started, Ibrahim saw only one other African-American in the crowd, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. She wasn’t totally surprised.
Muslim women are typically underrepresented in official gatherings, as women are in general at important events, she said. And political events highlighting Muslims in this country tend to include Muslims from abroad rather than from home.
“When you talk about Muslims in America, people engage in that conversation because it’s controversial,” she told the 30 people present Thursday evening in her studio, a crowd that included a mix of New Haven Muslims, people of other faiths, and loyal Balance Fitness customers. “African-Americans don’t fit into that. You can’t say we’re not American—because we’re home. My mother is actually Native American, so I’m more home than most people ... I would say the same thing would be for white American Muslims as well. We’re kind of like part of the American dialogue that almost seems insignificant.”
Ibrahim said she was quite taken with Obama. She also revealed the White House’s photography policy for guests: You can bring in a camera and take pictures, but no “selfies”—holding your camera at arm’s length to shoot yourself alongside the president. The White House staff photographer handles those shots. Ibrahim expects hers to arrive in the mail this month.
She also spoke of the spiritual challenge and benefits of fasting for the daylight hours of an entire month. As the sun set, people present recited evening prayers as a group, then dug into an iftar of their own with trays of rice, salad, and halal chicken from area restaurants. There was no president present, and no lamb, but it was a joyful feast just the same.
(Note: Click here to read a feature story by the Register’s Shahid Abdul-Karim about how Ibrahim, her husband, Shafiq Abdussabur, and their family view Ramadan as a “spiritual boot camp.”)