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September 2, 2009

Obama invites Jewish leaders to Ramadan dinner

President Barack Obama continued his Ramadan-timed Muslim outreach with a White House dinner on Tuesday. But this time, he invited some prominent Israeli and Jewish leaders to join their Muslim counterparts at the fast-breaking meal called Iftar.

The guest list included Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Nathan Diament, director of public affairs of the Orthodox Union, and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

They joined diplomats from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and other Muslim countries and the chief of mission of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Also on hand were Reps. Keith Ellison and Andre Carson, the first Muslims to serve in Congress, and other prominent American Muslims.

"I want to welcome all the American Muslims from many walks of life who are here," Obama said. "This is just one part of our effort to celebrate Ramadan, and continues a long tradition of hosting iftars here at the White House.

"For well over a billion Muslims, Ramadan is a time of intense devotion and reflection. It's a time of service and support for those in need. And it is also a time for family and friends to come together in a celebration of their faith, their communities, and the common humanity that all of us share. It is in that spirit that I welcome each and every one of you to the White House.

"Tonight's iftar is a ritual that is also being carried out this Ramadan at kitchen tables and mosques in all 50 states. Islam, as we know, is part of America. And like the broader American citizenry, the American Muslim community is one of extraordinary dynamism and diversity -- with families that stretch back generations and more recent immigrants; with Muslims of countless races and ethnicities, and with roots in every corner of the world.

"Indeed, the contribution of Muslims to the United States are too long to catalog because Muslims are so interwoven into the fabric of our communities and our country. American Muslims are successful in business and entertainment; in the arts and athletics; in science and in medicine. Above all, they are successful parents, good neighbors, and active citizens.

"So on this occasion, we celebrate the Holy Month of Ramadan, and we also celebrate how much Muslims have enriched America and its culture -- in ways both large and small."

Following is the White House transcript of Obama's remarks.

THE PRESIDENT: Please, everybody have a seat. Thank you. Well, it is my great pleasure to host all of you here at the White House to mark this special occasion -- Ramadan Kareem.

I want to say that I'm deeply honored to welcome so many members of the diplomatic corps, as well as several members of my administration and distinguished members of Congress, including the first two Muslims to serve in Congress -- Keith Ellison and Andre Carson. Where are they? (Applause.)

Just a few other acknowledgements I want to make. We have Senator Richard Lugar here, who's our Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Where is Dick Lugar? There he is. (Applause.) Representative John Conyers, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. (Applause.) Representative Rush Holt is here. Thank you, Rush. (Applause.) Have we found you a seat, Rush? (Laughter.)

REPRESENTATIVE HOLT: I’m on my way to the train. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: I got you.

We also have here -- Secretary of Defense Gates is here. Secretary Gates. (Applause.) Our Attorney General, Eric Holder. (Applause.) And Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius is here. (Applause.)

And most of all, I want to welcome all the American Muslims from many walks of life who are here. This is just one part of our effort to celebrate Ramadan, and continues a long tradition of hosting iftars here at the White House.

For well over a billion Muslims, Ramadan is a time of intense devotion and reflection. It's a time of service and support for those in need. And it is also a time for family and friends to come together in a celebration of their faith, their communities, and the common humanity that all of us share. It is in that spirit that I welcome each and every one of you to the White House.

Tonight's iftar is a ritual that is also being carried out this Ramadan at kitchen tables and mosques in all 50 states. Islam, as we know, is part of America. And like the broader American citizenry, the American Muslim community is one of extraordinary dynamism and diversity -- with families that stretch back generations and more recent immigrants; with Muslims of countless races and ethnicities, and with roots in every corner of the world.

Indeed, the contribution of Muslims to the United States are too long to catalog because Muslims are so interwoven into the fabric of our communities and our country. American Muslims are successful in business and entertainment; in the arts and athletics; in science and in medicine. Above all, they are successful parents, good neighbors, and active citizens.

So on this occasion, we celebrate the Holy Month of Ramadan, and we also celebrate how much Muslims have enriched America and its culture -- in ways both large and small. And with us here tonight, we see just a small sample of those contributions. Let me share a few stories with you briefly.

Elsheba Khan's son, Kareem, made the ultimate sacrifice for his country when he lost his life in Iraq. Kareem joined the military as soon as he finished high school. He would go on to win the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, along with the admiration of his fellow soldiers. In describing her son, Elsheba said, "He always wanted to help any way that he could." Tonight, he's buried alongside thousands of heroes in Arlington National Cemetery. A crescent is carved into his grave, just as others bear the Christian cross or the Jewish star. These brave Americans are joined in death as they were in life -- by a common commitment to their country, and the values that we hold dear.

One of those values is the freedom to practice your religion -- a right that is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Nashala Hearn, who joins us from Muskogee, Oklahoma, took a stand for that right at an early age. When her school district told her that she couldn't wear the hijab, she protested that it was a part of her religion. The Department of Justice stood behind her, and she won her right to practice her faith. She even traveled to Washington to testify before Congress. Her words spoke to a tolerance that is far greater than mistrust -- when she first wore her headscarf to school, she said, "I received compliments from the other kids."

Another young woman who has thrived in her school is Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir. She's not even 5'5 -- where's Bilqis? Right here. Stand up, Bilqis, just so that we -- (laughter) -- I want everybody to know -- she's got heels on. She's 5'5 -- Bilqis broke Rebecca Lobo's record for the most points scored by any high school basketball player in Massachusetts history. (Applause.) She recently told a reporter, "I'd like to really inspire a lot of young Muslim girls if they want to play basketball. Anything is possible. They can do it, too." As an honor student, as an athlete on her way to Memphis, Bilqis is an inspiration not simply to Muslim girls -- she's an inspiration to all of us.

Of course, we know that when it comes to athletes who have inspired America, any list would include the man known simply as The Greatest. And while Muhammad Ali could not join us tonight, it is worth reflecting upon his remarkable contributions, as he's grown from an unmatched fighter in the ring to a man of quiet dignity and grace who continues to fight for what he believes -- and that includes the notion that people of all faiths holds things in common. I love this quote. A few years ago, he explained this view -- and this is part of why he's The Greatest -- saying, "Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams -- they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do -- they all contain truths."

They all contain truths. Among those truths are the pursuit of peace and the dignity of all human beings. That must always form the basis upon which we find common ground. And that is why I am so pleased that we are joined tonight not only by so many outstanding Muslim Americans and representatives of the diplomatic corps, but people of many faiths -- Christians, Jews, and Hindus -- along with so many prominent Muslims.

Together, we have a responsibility to foster engagement grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect. And that's one of my fundamental commitments as President, both at home and abroad. That is central to the new beginning that I've sought between the United States and Muslims around the world. And that is a commitment that we can renew once again during this holy season.

So tonight, we celebrate a great religion, and its commitment to justice and progress. We honor the contributions of America's Muslims, and the positive example that so many of them set through their own lives. And we rededicate ourselves to the work of building a better and more hopeful world.

So thanks to all of you for taking the time to be here this evening. I wish you all a very blessed Ramadan. And with that, I think we can start a feast. I don't know what's on the menu, but I'm sure it will be good. (Laughter.) Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:18 PM | | Comments (15)
        

Comments

Which countries represented by diplomats at this dinner value the freedom to practice your religion in their own country? Let a Rabbi or Priest go into a public place in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Palistine, Oman, Yeman, UAE, Somalia, Libya, Sudan, Qatar, Bahrain or Malaysia and see what happens. How many Baptist churches are there in Saudia Arabia? None. They are not allowed. In many countries, you can be legally executed if you convert from Islam to Christianity.

I think if he is going to invite other religions to the Ramadan dinner why not a few Christians. Obama, why don't you invite Rifqa Bar,y a recently converted muslim. She wouldn't survive a week in any of the muslim countries you invited to the dinner. Oh, that's right women are not allowed to pray or eat with men. Obama your the first president in history to not hold the annual prayer breakfast. Why don't you honor the religion that founded this great country. This country that has fed and freed more people than any other in history. True Christians believe that you have free will to believe in God or reject his teachings. Islam is not based in love but fear of reprisals for not praying enough, holding hands and treats women as something lower than my pet dog. Wahabist's are responsible for more innocent women & children being killed and more beheadings than any other religion I can think of over the last 40 years. It is the religion of fear not love. Shame on you sir for shunning the religion that made it possible for you to be elected president to the greatest country in the world.

Come on RDM--talk about a religion of overflowing love--Christianity. Starting from the crusades, man, the Christians have been killing people. In the name of Christ the atrocities have been too many to count brother. Went to India, they did, overran it with their obsessive proselytizing about the Lord, colonized the natives, sucked their blood, treated them as second class in their own country and as a reward for their forced servitude gave the natives--what do you know-- CHRISTIANITY for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is the Christians who killed the Jews remember? They were not true Christians-- the killers-- won't hold any water with me because the obverse of that argument about the Muslims could be, "They are not true Muslims the Wahabis." Every religion claims its credibility from the direct mouth of God and as far I am concerned when they serve the pabulum called salvation with a soup spoon to the gullible all religions are exactly alike. So RDM be a good Christian and don't pick a quarrel about who's better than whom--it seems to me all religions are equally like fuzzy math--the calculations never add up.

Anonymous the sad truth is it's always easier to sit back and point out the flaws of other groups rather than admit your own group. I’m the first one to admit that many people claiming to be Christian have done many unchristian acts through out history. It’s rather sad that a simple message could end up so distorted and interpreted so many ways. I’m relatively sure many claiming to be followers of Islam have probably distorted its message to justify hateful behavior.

So, what was on the menu?

What was on the menu? The "I favor the Muslim" salad and the "I can look like I care about the Jews" dessert. Dont forget the "America is not a Christian nation" coffee.

"And I am a Christian with a chip on my aching shoulder" sour punch in a "Clay " pot.

Well Anon there are millions with the same sentiment as myself. Many of them are not even Christians. Some dont even live in the U.S.A. Have a good one.

Doesn't make any of them right or sane Clay--don't hide behind numbers. Millions followed Hitler to kill yet other millions--if you have something to say, say it wisely--put forth something cogent other than millions feel the same way as you do--in fact a minority of humans followed Jesus and his teachings after he died and swelling numbers in the Roman Empire believed that early Christians were good feeds for the lions before gladiatorial games. There are millions across the globe who want to impose their religious beliefs on others and the same millions enjoy controlling the sexual and reproductive aspects of human existence through religious tracts that have been given a million different interpretations over time. In Afghanistan by law a woman can't repeatedly refuse to have sex with her husband--if she does so for the fifth time, the husband can bring her before a an appointed religious judge who can get her appropriately punished--I believe flogged--wow! You-- a Christian, so close to the Taliban in your static ways astigmatism and dogmas. The more the major religions of the world are different from each other, the more they get to look exactly alike due to the practices and assertions of people like you and Mullah Omar.

I cant see satan convincing people that us Christians are like Taliban, like we are going to try to blow something up for our cause or that we are terrible because women in those countries are abused and that their religion is so much like ours? That there may be millions like us who attempt to spread God's love but so what because there were millions who followed Hitler? He was never able to get this done and he never will because God is stronger than him. And believe me, he has been a lot more conniving and sneaky than that. Thanks.

Clay all I've seen you spread is a lot of nonsense. If you were truly interested in spreading God's love you wouldn't have made that menu post. Stop pretending to be Christian and try learning what it means.

BTW Clay some who claim to be Christian do in fact commit acts of violence. Abortion doctors have been shot and clinics bombed. Sounds kind of like terrorism to me. It is sad how many people read the Word of God yet don't seem to practice it.

No Mr. president. 'We' are not and will not 'celebrate' ANY muslim event.
It is an evil, oppressive system. I think you are inviting them to follow you and I'm wondering who will end up odd man out. Perhaps Christians and Jews?

Ah, Maureen, what melodrama! What is an evil oppressive system? Are you aware of the Arab Spring? Have you seen how the Muslims have marched in scores for their own freedom? Have you heard the articulate and eloquent people on the Arab streets speaking out on so many issues? If you are talking about the Arab dictators what does that have to do with being a Muslim? The Muslims are just like you Maureen, they shit and pee like you, they want to be free like you, they are browbeaten by all the forces that browbeat you, they weep like you and they laugh like you; they have Ramadan and you have Christmas; many of them believe, like you probably do, that there is a mythic figure called god out there, protecting them--even when they are drowning. Are you telling me that one has to be a Christian or a Jew to be invited to the White House and by extension and extrapolation is your logic supposed to convey that the political system of the US cannot be besmirched with Muslim presence? US political bodies are overrun with Jews and Christians--surely there is a little hole somewhere in the White House where a few Muslims can sit or stand unobtrusively for an hour or two, their eyes moist with admiration for their shrewd political operator of a President? Surely you don't object to such harmless fraternization with something as dimwitted, dark and foreboding as, "We are not and will not celebrate any Muslim event". When you say that, do you realize that you are actually saying--by the rules of the English language-- "We are not any Muslim event". Of course you or anybody else is not a Muslim event --we don't want you to be a Muslim event and we do hope that you are a person. (Ah, the English language, the English language, it suffers so at the hands of the English speaking world!) And who is the WE you speak of, Maureen? Your free embrace of the plural tells me that your misery loves company. In Clay you will find perfect sympathy--unless of course you are Clay and he has morphed into you, Maureen--that would be stunning because the man assigns third class citizenship to women, as per instructions from his Bible and I cannot imagine he would pick himself the pen name "Maureen"--but still you could be Clay because you do sound like he does when he is flaunting his keen intellect on these threads.
R Anon

Thank you Mr. President for the dinner. Most religious leaders have tried to disseminate hatred and eliminate trust to one another, though they failed to build a uni-religious world. Some politician have also used religion to oppress and calm their people, though they have been found corrupted. African writers' also blame colonizers for using religion as an instrument to make Africa fall asleep while prospering their nations. I believe, as a world leader what you deed is the best one, because your country never and ever become a uni-religious nation. I encourage all leaders to teach their people tolerance and to follow your footsteps. I also would like to discourage young, adults and old people who conduct underground gatherings in the name of religion and try to make their religion government, as history told us you couldn't succeed in doing so.
Respect and love to all human race!

Maureen - who is the 'we" you refer to? I'm also wondering what knowledge you have of Islam to make sweeping generalizations? If you are Christian you might want to keep in mind Christ teaching about judging others?

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About Matthew Hay Brown
Matthew Hay Brown writes and blogs about faith and values in public and private life for The Baltimore Sun. A former Washington correspondent for the newspaper, he has long written about the intersection of religion and politics. He has reported from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, traveling most recently to Syria and Jordan to write about the Iraqi refugee crisis.
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