By Hannan Adely / North Jersey
A fundraising event featuring Hindu nationalist Sadhvi Rithambara will no longer be held at the Old Paramus Reformed Church in Ridgewood on Saturday, following a public outcry and calls to cancel the event.
The Rev. Robert Miller said late Friday that he revoked approval to use of the church building after hearing from both opponents and event organizers. Critics say Rithambara, known to followers as Didi Maa, has incited hate against religious minorities, especially Muslims. Her supporters say she is a pious leader and philanthropist.
The church was not aware of the speaker’s background when the reservation was made, Miller said. An Indian American seniors association, which had used the space before, contacted the church to book the event, he said.
He said the church got a flood of messages opposing Rithambara’s appearance, including more than 1,000 emails from around the country since Thursday and at least 100 phone calls on Friday.
A protest planned outside the church for Saturday by local advocacy groups was also canceled. Shaheen Khateeb, a founder and former president of the Indian American Muslim Council, said he decided not to hold the demonstration after speaking with Miller and local police to confirm the event would not be taking place.
“I didn’t want this to be misunderstood as a protest against the church,” Khateeb said.
Miller also heard from event organizers who felt they were being misrepresented and said their event was “about peace and love,” he said.
“We felt ill-equipped to discern what was right in this situation,” Miller said.
It was unclear whether the New Jersey chapter of Param Shakti Peeth of America, a charitable organization that organized the fundraiser, would hold the event at a different time or place.
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