President Obama Speaks Before Ramadan Celebration Dinner

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)

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