Sealed bottles of water sit on the white-clothed tables before the crowd of thirsty fasters. It's Ramadan, so for one month, observant Muslims like those gathered here at the downtown convention center will abstain from eating and drinking during the day, trading gratification for patience and restraint.
At the city of Houston's giant iftar, the evening meal which breaks the Ramadan fast, hundreds of Muslims and the religiously curious congregated on Saturday for an evening of speeches, prayers and -- at precisely 8:15 -- feasting. Consul generals from Italy, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China were present, as well as Mayor Annise Parker and guests from the FBI. And while Rick Perry's prayerapalooza nearby sought to convert, this gathering was about acceptance.
Michael Wolfe of Unity Productions Foundation, a nonprofit media organization, spoke of ways to educate Houston at large about Muslims -- since many don't bother to learn about Islam on their own. "When we feel we are being blamed unfairly, we amongst us have a tendency to hide, to isolate ourselves," he said. "Now is not the time to be shy. Now is the time to show how good you are."
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He screened a trailer for Salaam Houston, a new film released at the start of Ramadan and designed to generate discussion among people of different faiths about Muslims. "It's the group Americans know the least about, and want to know the most about," the film's narrator said.
Other speakers included Parker, Texas Congresspeople Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, and Usama Canon, an instructor at the Zaytuna Institute. Each praised the city's diversity -- and each pledged brevity.
"I always thought that the hardest time to talk to people is before they eat, or right after they eat, but I've decided tonight it's after they fast," said Canon.
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