Opinion: At Ramadan Iftar dinner, Obama supports new mosque on private property near Ground Zero
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Good evening. Welcome to the White House. To you, to Muslim Americans across our country, and to more than one billion Muslims around the world, I extend my best wishes on this holy month. Ramadan Kareem. I want to welcome members of the diplomatic corps; members of my administration; and Members of Congress, including Rush Holt, John Conyers, and Andre Carson, who is one of two Muslim American Members of Congress, along with Keith Ellison.
Here at the White House, we have a tradition of hosting iftars that goes back several years, just as we host Christmas parties, seders, and Diwali celebrations. These events celebrate the role of faith in the lives of the American people. They remind us of the basic truth that we are all children of God, and we all draw strength and a sense of purpose from our beliefs.
These events are also an affirmation of who we are as Americans. Our Founders understood that the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of our people was to protect their freedom to practice religion. In the....
...Virginia Act for Establishing Religion Freedom, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.” The First Amendment of our Constitution established the freedom of religion as the law of the land. And that right has been upheld ever since.
Indeed, over the course of our history, religion has flourished within our borders precisely because Americans have had the right to worship as they choose – including the right to believe in no religion at all. And it is a testament to the wisdom of our Founders that America remains deeply religious – a nation where the ability of peoples of different faiths to coexist peacefully and with mutual respect for one another stands in contrast to the religious conflict that persists around the globe.
That is not to say that religion is without controversy. Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities – particularly in New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. The pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.
But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.
We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who have led our response to that attack – from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us always remember who we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for. Our enemies respect no freedom of religion. Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam – it is a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders – these are terrorists who murder innocent men, women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion – and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.
That is who we are fighting against. And the reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms – it is the strength of our values. The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish. The laws that we apply without regard to race or religion; wealth or status. Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect to those who are different from us – a way of life that stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.
In my inaugural address, I said that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. That diversity can bring difficult debates. Indeed, past eras have seen controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches. But time and again, the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues, stay true to our core values, and emerge stronger for it. So it must be – and will be – today.
Tonight, we are reminded that Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity. And Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been part of America. The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan—making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago.
Like so many other immigrants, generations of Muslims came here to forge their future. They became farmers and merchants, worked in mills and factories, and helped lay the railroads. They helped build America. They founded the first Islamic center in New York City in the 1890s. They built America’s first mosque on the prairie of North Dakota. And perhaps the oldest surviving mosque in America—still in use today—is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Today, our nation is strengthened by millions of Muslim Americans. They excel in every walk of life. Muslim American communities—including mosques in all fifty states—also serve their neighbors. Muslim Americans protect our communities as police, firefighters and first responders. Muslim American clerics have spoken out against terror and extremism, reaffirming that Islam teaches that one must save human life, not take it. And Muslim Americans serve with honor in our military. At next week’s iftar at the Pentagon, tribute will be paid to three soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq and now rest among the heroes of Arlington National Cemetery.
These Muslim Americans died for the security that we depend upon, and the freedoms that we cherish. They are part of an unbroken line of Americans that stretches back to our Founding; Americans of all faiths who have served and sacrificed to extend the promise of America to new generations, and to ensure that what is exceptional about America is protected – our commitment to stay true to our core values, and our ability to perfect our union.
For in the end, we remain “one nation, under God, indivisible.” And we can only achieve “liberty and justice for all” if we live by that one rule at the heart of every religion, including Islam—that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Thank you all for being here, and I wish you a blessed Ramadan. And with that, let’s eat. ####
This evening, the President will continue a White House tradition of hosting an Iftar celebrating Ramadan in the State Dining Room. This is the second Iftar hosted by the President. The Iftar is the meal that breaks the day of fasting, when Muslim families and communities eat together after sunset. Below is a list of some of the expected attendees at tonight’s White House dinner celebrating Ramadan:
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
The Honorable Andre Carson, United States Representative (Indiana 7th)
The Honorable John Conyers, United States Representative (Michigan 14th)
The Honorable Rush Holt, United States Representative (New Jersey 12th)
Ms. Saleha Abedin
Mr. Ahmed Ahmed
Dr. Akbar Ahmed, American University
Mrs. Anila Ali, Council of Pakistan American Affairs
Mr. Bill Aossey, Midamar Corporation
Mrs. Fatema Bayat
Mr. Salam Al Marayati, Muslim Public Affairs Council
Rev. Chloe Breyer, Interfaith Center of New York
Mr. Hasan Chandoo, Oppenheimer & Co.
Ms. Sarah Darwish
Dr. Mahmoud Eboo, Aga Khan Council of the United States
Mr. Walter Edwards, Harlem Business Council
Mrs. Sana Fadel
Mr. Imad Hussain
Mr. Hassan Jaber, Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services
Mr. Muhammad U. Khan
Ms. Saaliha Khan
Imam Mohamed Hag Magid, All Dulles Area Muslim Society
Mrs. Shahnaz Masumi
Dr. Ingrid Mattson, Islamic Society of North America
Mr. Farooq Mitha
Ms. Dalia Mogahed, Director, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies
Mr. Mohamedraza Moledina
Mrs. Shabnum Moledina
Mrs. Laila Muhammad
Ms. Naheed Qureshi, Muslim Advocates
Mrs. Ranae Quraishi, Muslim Public Service Network
Ms. Intisar Rabb, Boston College
Dr. Jane Ramsey, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
Ms. Nadia Roumani, American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute
Mrs. Sally Steenland, Center for American Progress
Ms. Sadaf Syed
Mr. Mustafa Tameez
Mr. Ibrahim Vajzovic, United Bosnian Association
Mrs. Sara Najjar Wilson, Arab American anti-Discrimination Committee
The Honorable Dan Poneman, Deputy Secretary of Energy
The Honorable Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Ms. Huma Abedin, Deputy Chief of Staff, Department of State
Mr. Mustafa Javed Ali, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Mr. Arif Alikhan, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development, Department of Homeland Security
Mr. Mazen Basrawi, Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Department of Justice
Technical Sergeant Sabrina Marie Bullock-Labaran, U.S. Air Force
Sergeant Major Agha Jalil Durrani, U.S. Army
Ms. Rehana Hakeem, Department of State
Chaplain Abdullah Hulwe, U.S. Army
Mr. Rashad Hussain, U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference
Mr. Adnan Kifayat, Department of Treasury
Ms. Sehreen Noor Ali, Department of State
Ms. Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities, Department of State
Ms. Hannah Rosenthal, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Department of State
Mr. Irfan Saeed, Department of Homeland Security
Lt. Commander Abuhena Saifulislam, U.S. Marine Corps
Mr. Osman Shinaishin, National Science Foundation
Mr. Kareem Shora, Department of Homeland Security
Mr. Shaarik Zafar, National Counter Terrorism Center
Mrs. Shamim Jawad, Spouse, Embassy of Afghanistan
His Excellency Yashar Aliyev, Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan
His Excellency Akramul Qader, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
His Excellency Roble Olhaye, Ambassador of the Republic of Djibouti
His Excellency Sameh Hassan Shoukry, Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt
His Excellency Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See
Her Excellency Meera Shankar, Ambassador of India
His Excellency Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaida’ie, Ambassador of the Republic of Iraq
His Excellency Erlan A. Idrissov, Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan
His Excellency Avni Spahiu, Ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo
His Excellency Ali Suleiman Aujali, Ambassador of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
His Excellency Aziz Mekour, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco
Her Excellency Hunaina Sultan Ahmed Al Mughairy, Ambassador of the Sultanate of Oman
His Excellency Ali Bin Fahad Faleh Al-Hajri, Ambassador of the State of Qatar
His Excellency Adel A.M. Al-Jubeir, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia
His Excellency Husain Haqqani, Ambassador of Pakistan
His Excellency Sergey Ivanovich Kislyak, Ambassador of the Russian Federation
His Excellency Habib Mansour, Ambassador of Tunisia
His Excellency Ilhomjon Tuychievich Nematov, Ambassador of the Republic of Uzbekistan
His Excellency Abdulwahab A. Al Hajjri, Ambassador of the Republic Yemen
His Excellency Ufuk Gokcen, Ambassador and Permanent Observer, Organization of the Islamic Conference
The Honorable Deitan Mish, Chargé d’Affaires at Interim of the Republic Albania
The Honorable Ali Alaoui, Chargé d’Affaires at Interim of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria
The Honorable Tesfaye Yilma Sabo, Chargé d’Affaires at Interim of Ethiopia
The Honorable Salman Al Farisi, Chargé d’Affaires at Interim of the Republic of Indonesia
The Honorable Walid Rahman J. Al Hadid, Chargé d’Affaires at Interim of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
The Honorable Noraini Hamid, Chargé d’Affaires at Interim of Malaysia
The Honorable Bello Ringim, Economic Minister, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
The Honorable Suleyman Gokce, Chargé d’Affaires at Interim of the Republic of Turkey
The Honorable Dominick Chilcott, British Chargé d’Affaires at Interim ####
President Obama’s special Ramadan message to the Muslim world