- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2009

A variety of religions will be whooping it up this weekend at something unique in terms of inaugural festivities: religiously oriented balls.

The African American Church Inaugural Ball will have several bishops in attendance. A Masonic ball is scheduled just off Dupont Circle. A Sikh ball will be filled with men in turbans and women in flowing silk tunics and loose trousers.

A Jewish ball will feature klezmer music, and a Muslim event will be black tie. Some will allow dancing; others will not.

One that will not is the Muslim Inauguration Gala at 7 p.m. Monday at the Thurgood Marshall Center, 1816 12th St. NW. About 500 people have signed up, paying $100 each for tickets.

Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat, will attend. Several local imams, including Johari Abdul-Malik of Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church and Yusef Saleem of Masjid Muhammad in the District, also will be there.

Organizers declined to talk on the record, although they did say there will be no dancing. Islam forbids mixed-sex dancing in public.

Musical groups such as the Nappy Roots and L’Tynna and Company will perform. The Congressional Muslim Staffers Association is an honorary host.

At an Indian restaurant just a few blocks from the White House, a first-ever Sikh Inaugural Ball will be held Tuesday night for a crowd of 300 turbaned and sari-clad guests. A “dhol” (drum) player will perform, as will Adel Ahmed, a Bangladeshi singer.

Full Sikh regalia or formal Punjabi (northwest Indian) attire is required at the event. So far, 150 tickets, costing $150 and $250, have been sold for the event at the Indian Experience at 17th and L streets in Northwest. Celebrants will do a Punjabi folk dance called the “bhangra,” Indian food will be served and organizers are hoping that the newly inaugurated president, Barack Obama, will drop by. Mr. Obama is said to favor Indian cuisine.

However, the Secret Service might have a problem with an item some guests may have on their bodies. It’s the “kirpan,” a knifelike religious item that devout Sikhs wear at all times as a reminder of their task to protect the weak and promote justice.

Lakhinder Jit Singh Vohra, a Woodbridge resident who together with his wife, Gurveen Kaur Vohra, is organizing the event, doesn’t think guests will bring along their kirpans. The focus, he added, is “showcasing India.”

He added, “Sikhs epitomize India today. The prime minister is a Sikh. The recent army chief of staff was a Sikh. The Sikhs are boisterous. We are the official party animals of India.”

The African American Church Inaugural Ball is at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Grand Hyatt Washington’s Independence Ball Room. The theme is “We Have Come This Far by Faith.”

The chairmen and co-chairmen hail from Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, African Methodist Episcopal, National Baptist, American Baptist, Progressive National Baptist, Episcopal and many other denominations. The Rev. Rick Warren, the California evangelical minister slated to deliver the opening prayer during Tuesday’s inauguration, also will attend.

Individual $250 tickets are sold out, but $500 “VIP” tickets are still available for a projected 1,500 guests.

Opera soprano Jessye Norman, singer Wintley Phipps - who will perform “God Bless America” - and a host of other vocalists are in the talent lineup.

Twenty-five people will receive “keepers of the flame” awards for “untiring strength and commitment to our future,” including political strategist Donna Brazile, former college President Johnnetta B. Cole, cultural historian John Hope Franklin, Rep. John Lewis, gospel singer Della Reese-Lett and the Rev. Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa.

“When you look at the history of civil rights and getting out the vote, the African-American church was behind the movement,” said Pernessa Seele, the ball’s chief organizer. The event, she added, will not include dancing but will feature music from choirs and vocalists.

“It’s going to be an African-American church experience,” she said.

Will the new president attend? “We hope so,” she added.

A National Jewish Inaugural Ball, organized by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld at Ohev Sholom, an Orthodox synagogue at 1600 Jonquil St. in Northwest, will be held at 8 p.m. Sunday.

It will include a klezmer/jazz music band, kosher food and a guest list including filmmaker Aviva Kempner, Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver and Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. Tickets range from $20 to $50. The synagogue is hoping for at least 300 guests; 100 have signed up to date.

Orthodox Jews do not allow mixed-sex dancing, so a banquet table will separate the men from the women.

“However one voted, we are one country and the inauguration is a special time,” the rabbi said. Some prayers will be recited at the ball, he added, “for the welfare of our government and the health of our president. This is a special time.”

A First Masonic Inaugural Ball is slated for 8 p.m. Tuesday at Stars Bistro at 21st and P streets Northwest. Tickets are an economical $65 each for some 200 guests. Masons call themselves a “spiritual organization,” meaning members must believe in a Supreme Being.

“Many presidents of the United States were members of our fraternity,” their Web site notes.

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