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Arabic prayer stirs ire at council meeting

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Shaik Fazailahmed reads a translation of they prayer he recited to City Council. Fazailahmed was invited by the council for the invocation.


By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A opening prayer by an invited Islamic cleric at the City Council’s Thursday night meeting drew criticism from two speakers at the meeting’s public comment period. 

Shaik Fazailahmed of the Islamic Center of Eastern North Carolina, located on Evans Street in Greenville, was invited Thursday by District 4 Councilman Rick Smiley for the invocation. Fazailahmed recited and chanted Arabic prayers for about two minutes then returned to his seat. 

The public comment period began shortly after the prayer. Dave Barham, who had registered with the city clerk to speak before the meeting began, stepped up to the microphone. 

“Good evening. If it’s OK with Rick Smiley, I will speak in English and English only, and since I have no idea what that prayer was asking for, I’m asking publicly for a public transcript of what that prayer was asking for, but that ain’t why I came here,” he said, before launching into an unrelated string of complaints against Smiley.

Later in the public comment period, James Harris came before the council and presented each member with a pocket-sized copy of the United States Constitution. He introduced himself as an active member of the verteran community and offered his help and support to the council as they went about their new roles — Thursday’s meeting was the second for the new group of council members since the Nov. 7 municipal election.

At the end of his presentation to the council, Harris turned to Fazailahmed, who was seated immediately behind him.

“I hate to say this, but sir you insulted me,” Harris said to the cleric. “If you’re going to come into my country, speak English, please. Especially don’t be using Muslim prayers here. That is a very degrading thing. I apologize for saying it, but too many of my friends have died over there.” 

Fazailahmed apologized to the council following Harris remarks, and actually produced a copy of his prayer in English and read it for those in attendance. He said he did not translate it only because he wanted to save everyone time. He did provide the council a copy. 

The translation that Fazailahmed read asked god to bless those in attendance and provide wisdom and guidance for all. 

Smiley said after the meeting that he believes people should be respectful in the chambers. 

“Anyone who attends a City Council meeting should be prepared to hear from people who disagree with them,” he said. “It’s important that they come ready to listen respectfully — just as they expect to be treated respectfully when they speak.” 

Smiley said he has invited clergy from multiple faiths to deliver the invocation. He has invited representatives from various protestant denominations, Catholics, members of the Jewish faith and now Fazailahmed. He said he believes prayers during the council meetings should reflect the diversity of religions practiced in the city. 

“Since I joined council, I have invited clergy from various faiths to deliver the invocation,” he said. “Greenville citizens worship in diverse ways, and our public conversation should reflect that diversity.” 

Contact Seth Gulledge at sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579. Follow him on Twitter @GulledgeSeth.