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August 11, 2011

Obama: Islam has always been part of America

As Muslims observe Ramadan, President Obama on Wednesday evening hosted an Iftar -- a meal after sundown to break the fast of the daylight hours -- at the White House. Following are his remarks, as released by the White House Press Office.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Everyone, please have a seat, have a seat.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the White House. Tonight is part of a rich tradition here at the White House of celebrating the holy days of many faiths and the diversity that define us as a nation. So these are quintessentially American celebrations -- people of different faiths coming together, with humility before our maker, to reaffirm our obligations to one another, because no matter who we are, or how we pray, we’re all children of a loving God.

Now, this year, Ramadan is entirely in August. That means the days are long, the weather is hot, and you are hungry. (Laughter.) So I will be brief.

I want to welcome the members of the diplomatic corps who are here; the members of Congress, including two Muslim American members of Congress -- Keith Ellison and Andre Carson; and leaders and officials from across my administration. Thank you all for being here. Please give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)

To the millions of Muslim Americans across the United States and more -- the more than one billion Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a time of reflection and a time of devotion. It’s an occasion to join with family and friends in celebration of a faith known for its diversity and a commitment to justice and the dignity of all human beings. So to you and your families, Ramadan Kareem.

This evening reminds us of both the timeless teachings of a great religion and the enduring strengths of a great nation. Like so many faiths, Islam has always been part of our American family, and Muslim Americans have long contributed to the strength and character of our country, in all walks of life. This has been especially true over the past 10 years.

In one month, we will mark the 10th anniversary of those awful attacks that brought so much pain to our hearts. It will be a time to honor all those that we’ve lost, the families who carry on their legacy, the heroes who rushed to help that day and all who have served to keep us safe during a difficult decade. And tonight, it’s worth remembering that these Americans were of many faiths and backgrounds, including proud and patriotic Muslim Americans.

Muslim Americans were innocent passengers on those planes, including a young married couple looking forward to the birth of their first child. They were workers in the Twin Towers -- Americans by birth and Americans by choice, immigrants who crossed the oceans to give their children a better life. They were cooks and waiters, but also analysts and executives.

There, in the towers where they worked, they came together for daily prayers and meals at Iftar. They were looking to the future -- getting married, sending their kids to college, enjoying a well-deserved retirement. And they were taken from us much too soon. And today, they live on in the love of their families and a nation that will never forget. And tonight, we’re deeply humbled to be joined by some of these 9/11 families, and I would ask them to stand and be recognized, please. (Applause.)

Muslim Americans were first responders -- the former police cadet who raced to the scene to help and then was lost when the towers collapsed around him; the EMTs who evacuated so many to safety; the nurse who tended to so many victims; the naval officer at the Pentagon who rushed into the flames and pulled the injured to safety. On this 10th anniversary, we honor these men and women for what they are -- American heroes.

Nor let us forget that every day for these past 10 years Muslim Americans have helped to protect our communities as police and firefighters, including some who join us tonight. Across our federal government, they keep our homeland secure, they guide our intelligence and counterterrorism efforts and they uphold the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans. So make no mistake, Muslim Americans help to keep us safe.

We see this in the brave service of our men and women in uniform, including thousands of Muslim Americans. In a time of war, they volunteered, knowing they could be sent into harm’s way. Our troops come from every corner of our country, with different backgrounds and different beliefs. But every day they come together and succeed together, as one American team.

During the 10 hard years of war, our troops have served with excellence and with honor. Some have made the ultimate sacrifice, among them Army Specialist Kareem Khan. Galvanized by 9/11 to serve his country, he gave his life in Iraq and now rests with his fellow heroes at Arlington. And we thank Kareem’s mother, Elsheba, for being here again tonight. (Applause.) Like Kareem, this generation has earned its place in history, and I would ask all of our service members here tonight -- members of the 9/11 Generation -- to stand and accept the thanks of our fellow Americans. (Applause.)

This year and every year, we must ask ourselves: How do we honor these patriots -- those who died and those who served? In this season of remembrance, the answer is the same as it was 10 Septembers ago. We must be the America they lived for and the America they died for, the America they sacrificed for.

An America that doesn’t simply tolerate people of different backgrounds and beliefs, but an America where we are enriched by our diversity. An America where we treat one another with respect and with dignity, remembering that here in the United States there is no “them” or “us;” it’s just us. An America where our fundamental freedoms and inalienable rights are not simply preserved, but continually renewed and refreshed -- among them the right of every person to worship as they choose. An America that stands up for dignity and the rights of people around the world, whether a young person demanding his or her freedom in the Middle East or North Africa, or a hungry child in the Horn of Africa, where we are working to save lives.

Put simply, we must be the America that goes forward as one family, like generations before us, pulling together in times of trial, staying true to our core values and emerging even stronger. This is who we are and this is who we must always be.

Tonight, as we near a solemn anniversary, I cannot imagine a more fitting wish for our nation. So God bless you all and God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 7:56 AM | | Comments (14)


When will Mr. Obama (or any politicion, for that matter) host a get together for athiests? Or perhaps attend of meeting of the Freedom From Religion Foundation?

Once again, those of us who are aware that there is no god are left shaking our heads.

Henry. In a foxhole no one is an atheist. You might learn to also spell what you fly on your flag. I'll keep praying for you

J. James,


Henry how exactly did you become aware God does not exist? Did you objectievky examine evidence presented or are you just denying it because it isn't scientific or because it isn't what YOU want? Granted, objectivity is difficult for all people, but are you being as objective as you can or do you have a presupposition that God does not exist or that the miraculous cannot occur? If you have a presupposition, then you cannot objectively examine the evidence. Finally, If you assume that science can explain all phenomena then there can be no miraculous evidence ever submitted as proof. Again since it is impossible to know everything, especially those things that happen outside of our limited space-time continuum, then you are simply making an assumption which is irrelevant and illogical.

Concerned Christian,

Although I realize my arguments won't shake your faith (and that is not my purpose), here are my reasons for rejecting the notion of "god.":

Most every phenomenon attributed to "god" can be explained by science. "God" was created by men seeking answers for things they could not explain. As science provides these explanations, the need for "god" falls away.

If one studies mythology objectively, one learns how much of the narrative regarded as "truth" by Christians is little more than warmed-over re-tellings of myths of prior cultures. The compilers of your scripture merely collected and "re-branded" good stories from material found elsewhere. The idea of reading scripture as history is ludicrous. The notion that scripture provides a unique and infallible moral guide is absurd.

I cannot square the conflict between benevolence and omnipotence. If god is both benevolent and omnipotent, why does evil/pain exist? If god is omnipotent, "he" is malevolent; if "he" is benevolent, "he" is powerless in the face of evil. "He" cannot be both omnipotent and benevolent. I am impatient by the rationalization that tells me that I can't know the mind of god or that evil/pain has an eventual benevolent purpose. Tell that to the mothers in Somalia who watch their children starve. Tell that to the victims of the Holocaust. My impatience turns to anger when I catalog exactly how much of the evil/pain was undertaken by men in the name of god....

Which brings me to my primary reason for being a non-believer: I see religious faith used way too often (both in modern time and throughout history) as a bludgeon applied against others, who may not live exactly as the "moral majority" sees fit.

I don't need religion in order to live a "moral" life. I don't need "god" to police my life. I don't need a pie-in-the-sky (literally) reward to convince me that my life in the here and now has purpose.

Bankstreet -
Thank you very much for the response. I appreciate you taking the time to add to the conversation and present your reasoning. You present some valid questions and points. I will try and respond as best as I can.

Actually there are a great deal of phenomenon that science can not explain and will likely never be able to explain. How did the universe come into being? The greatest scientists have been struck by how strange this is. There is no logical necessity for a universe that obeys rules, let alone one that abides by the rules of mathematics. This astonishment springs from the recognition that the universe doesn't have to behave this way. It is easy to imagine a universe in which conditions change unpredictably from instant to instant, or even a universe in which things pop in and out of existence. Actually the more we learn about the universe the more difficult it becomes to deny God’s existence.

I don’t agree with your view of the bible except with the possible exception of Genesis. However even if one accepts your premise about much of the narrative stories in scripture it has no bearing on the message being conveyed. While there is historical accuracy in much of the scriptures especially the OT prophets and the NT it is not intended to be a historical or scientific guide. It’s purpose is to be that moral guide you find absurd. I’d say the 10 commandments and the teachings of Christ for the basis of a unique and infallible moral guide. The question is why do you find it absurd? Could it be because you don’t want to follow that guide? Only you can answer that one and I do not want you to do it here to me. You owe me not explanation or justification. You owe that to God and yourself.

I can understand you dilemma with the conflict between benevolence and omnipotence. However, simply denying the answer because you don’t like it or can’t understand it doesn’t reflect a valid reason. No promises are made that this life will be without evil or suffering. All I can do is give you my speculation on the why. In my humble opinion that is the result of being allowed free choice. The suffering in Somalia could be ended if all of us acted as Christ called us too. There are sufficient resources held by all of us to put an end to suffering. It exists because of our greed, lust, intolerance and other faults. No place is it more troubling then coming from those who claim to do it in God’s name..

You are correct that religious faith has been misused far too often in the past and present to force others to live as someone else sees fit. That is not what Christians were instructed to do and nowhere did Christ call on us to do anything except preach. Those who choose to accept should be welcomed and those who do not should be left in peace to live their lives with respect and dignity. It is not for any of us to judge another.

I did not write this long response to force my beliefs or make any comment regarding your life. Most often I am only trying to get someone else to think. I have to thank you as you are the first person to get me to do that in some time. If you are happy with your choices I wish you peace and a long happy life.

Concerned Christian,

I likewise thank you for your considered response to the points I made. Too often, these discussions deteriorate into petulant shouting and citations of dubious authorities. I will not be convinced by Bible verses, and you will not be convinced by Richard Dawkins!

(In fact, neither of us is going to be convinced by any of this exchange.)

I do want to to correct you on one of your assessments of my argument. I never said that I find the teachings of the Bible "absurd." What I said was, "The notion that scripture provides a UNIQUE AND INFALLIBLE moral guide is absurd." There is a great deal of wisdom in scripture ... just as there is in numerous other texts.

With regard to my contention that science obviates religion, I will agree (as I indicated) that not every natural phenomenon can be explained by science. But the history of science has been one of discovery that has triumphed over ignorance and myth (as published and defended by religion) again and again -- with the glacial accommodation by religion and at the very real peril of many a rational scientist! I await further revelations by science; I do not look to fable for the literal truth about my universe.

As to my point regarding the replication in the Judeo-Christian canon of myths found in other cultures and traditions, I think you will find tales of talking serpents and floods and ...and yes, virgin births, sacrificed sons, and resurrections, being told and re-told from epoch to epoch. That moral lessons are to be found in these myths is indisputable. My quarrel is with the notion that your version of them is of any greater credibility, value, or divinity than any of the others. They were granted such worth by men with political and economic agendas, and they are sustained in preeminence in that way and for those reasons to this day.

Thanks again for taking the time to address my questions in a civil, gracious, and thoughtful manner


My apologies if I misunderstood the meaning your absurd comment. Thank you for clarifying it for me. I tend to agree that neither of us is likely to change views as a result of this discussion. However, it still good to have such discussions. I believe they serve two purposes. First it may provide opportunities challenging one to think about what they believe as opposed to just blindly following along. The other reason is that it shows that people can disagree and still remain civil, gracious and respectful of one another despite our differences.

That you personally find concept of scripture providing a unique and infallible moral guide absurd doesn’t make it so. You are certainly entitled to that belief. In truth being unique is far less important in the equation. I tend to find that most who make such statements make it because there is some element of that moral guide they don’t want to follow. I have no idea if that is your situation or not nor do you need to respond as that is your own concern my friend.

I suspect you are better versed that I on the subjects of other cultures and traditions than I. That said the fact that some concepts may be borrowed from doesn’t make them any less
The Scriptures were written by over 40 different authors, over a period of approximately 1,500 years. These authors not only lived in different time periods, but were also in totally different cultures, living in totally different environments, over 3 different continents, in a wide variety of occupations. Yet, miraculously, all the books of Scripture are in complete unity and agreement, revealing the Nature of God, man and his relationship to God, and how God planned to restore that relationship. Scriptures are completely in agreement in controversial matters such as God, the meaning of life, etc.

Science has also throughout the years also corrected its own errors as well as in some cases supported things mentioned in scriptures. Critics at one time denied that the Hittites mentioned in the Bible had ever lived, because no record of their existence had yet been found. Today in Ankara, Turkey, there is an entire museum devoted to the Hittites.

I understand your issue with scriptures. Many Christians tend to avoid the issues you mention rather than reflect on them and meditate on them. I am hardly qualified to make the sort of response you seek. I can only say that in my opinion if one tries to use the lens of human knowledge and logic then scriptures can be difficult to come to grips with. That is only compounded by those radical conservatives who insist on pushing literal interpretations of scriptures as well as the intermingling of civil government and Christianity. In my opinion all that accomplishes is to push people further away as opposed to giving them reasons to consider the message and teachings.

As you said I doubt either will change the other’s view, but it has been nice to be able to exchange views politely and civilly with someone. Again I also owe you thanks as you have given me cause to re-examine some of my own beliefs. Take care friend.

Concerned Christian,

I have decided to respond to your note, despite your sounding like you wished to conclude this dialogue.

I wanted to make one final point. Your inference that I reject religious faith because I am unable or unwilling to adhere to religious teaching is somewhat offensive. Like you, I have constructed a moral framework to govern my life. Like you, I have selected from among many options to determine the precepts by which I live. I strongly suspect your life is not lived in strict adherence to Biblical (or even Christian) teachings. If you lived your life according to the teachings of Jesus, you would either be arrested or institutionalized. In any event, you would not be able to afford the computer that allows you to read these words.

In my earlier catalog of the reasons I am not religious, I failed to include (at least specifically) the comfortable sanctimony exhibited by so many believers. Your posting brought this to my mind.

I am sorry you were offended; however I made no inferences as to why you rejected faith. I also stand by everything I have said. I did remark about problems Christians, including myself have at times with scripture. Your response strikes me as if there is some truth to what you accused me of saying. In truth I have no way of knowing how you formed the basis for which you live your life or why you reject Christianity. You are also correct like every other Christian I have made more than my fair share of transgressions which is why I try hard not to appear to judge any else for theirs. If it appeared that way to you I am sorry that was not the intent. Getting arrested or institutionalized for following Christ does not concern me. I would be curious to hear which of Christ’s teachings would cause one of those actions. Until that last post you never exhibited use ridicule and personal attacks that most atheists resort to.

Concerned Christian,

What you took for ridicule was mostly only a challenge to your presumption.

My point was (and remains) that you -- no less than I -- construct a personal morality that accommodates our own needs and our own situations. Like most Christians, you pick and choose the parts of Christian teachings you obey (or ask others to obey) Your saying I avoid Christianity (and religion) altogether because I cannot accept some of those "rules" was, therefore, a bit disingenuous.

You asked for examples. I daresay you do not adhere completely and literally to the directives found in Luke 12:33 and Matthew 26:52, Matthew 5:43-48, and Luke 6:27-28, to say nothing of the Fourth and Tenth Commandments and the Levitical prohibitions (obeying any number of those would certainly land you in jail).

The only difference between you and me is is that you maintain that your morality is guided only by Christian teachings and mythology, whereas I -- while acknowledging the utility of some of those teachings -- manage to be a responsible citizen of the world without needing to accept the Christian canon as either historical fact or as the one true Way.

I am sorry you thought my response descended into snark. While I try very hard to respect the beliefs of others, what I describe as the "comfortable sanctimony" of the faithful does tend to set me off. When that sanctimony is mixed with arrogance, I take the gloves off. Your posting did not have (or should not have had) that effect.


Arrogance is a problem for many Christians. Maybe I can’t see it in my own comments since it doesn’t appear so to me. Nor in my view was any of it sanctimonious. If any part of it came off that way it was not intended. I am curious how you think you know enough about me to comment on my Christianity and make accusations that I pick and choose what parts to follow of Christianity. You seemed to get offended when you believed I stated why you reject Christianity yet you seem perfectly willing to judge how I practice it.

You didn’t answer my question as to what part of Christ’s teaching would land me in jail. The Levitical prohibitions spoke of were not mentioned in Christ’s teaching as far as I remember. If I’m mistaken by all means correct me on that. I’ve already acknowledged I like everyone else have fallen short and committed sins. It is exactly that I need the forgiveness granted through faith in Christ.

I haven’t asked you or anyone else to obey anything. Becoming a Christian and trying to obey its teaching is a choice. Other than the obvious things most would agree are wrong and are condemned in other religions, murder, theft etc. I don’t expect anything to be forced on anyone. If you or anyone else doesn’t want to follow Christianity that is your choice and the only thing I can do is to wish you or them peace.

Religion tends to be an emotional topic with all, believers and nonbelievers alike. Most don’t like having their own beliefs or non-beliefs questioned or consider why they believe what they do. I’m not saying that is true in your case as I don’t know enough about you to make such a comment. Unfortunately some Christians, I’m sure me at points in time, can come off too strong in championing our beliefs. If I came off that way with you it was not intended and I am sorry.

Concerned Christian,

This conversation has reached the "dead horse" point. We've each exhausted the points we wish to make. I won't be responding further.


Yes I suspect you are right. Sorry I won't receive anymore responses as some of them challenged me to think about my faith. All I can do is wish you peace and happiness and God's blessings.

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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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