Obama Hosts Annual Ramadan Dinner at White House


Washington, DC: President Barack Obama said Monday that Americans stand united in rejecting the targeting of any religious or ethnic group as he marked Islam's holy month of Ramadan.

Obama opened the White House to Muslim Americans for a traditional iftar dinner, which follows daily fasting from dawn to sunset. Ramadan ends with the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

"We affirm that whatever our faith, we're all one family," Obama said at the East Room dinner attended by about 40 members of the diplomatic community and a few members of Congress.

He recognized several young dinner guests, including Samantha Elauf, who went to the Supreme Court to defend her right to wear a headscarf, or hijab. She was 17 in 2008 when she was rejected for a sales job at an Abercrombie Kids store in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after wearing a hijab to the interview.

"She was determined to defend the right to wear a hijab — to have the same opportunities as everybody else," Obama said. "She went all the way to the Supreme Court — which I didn't do at her age — and she won."

Obama spoke of three young Muslims who were killed Feb. 10 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the nine black church members killed last week in Charleston, South Carolina.

"As Americans, we insist that nobody should be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, who they love, how they worship," he said. "We stand united against these hateful acts."

According to another report, the president said that the dinner "is also a reminder of the freedoms that bind us together as Americans, including the freedom of religion -- that inviolable right to practice our faiths freely."

Citing the shootings at the Charleston, S.C., church and the murder of three young Muslim Americans in Chapel Hill, N.C., earlier this year, Obama said that "as Americans, we insist that nobody should be targeted because of who they are, or what they look like, who they love, how they worship." He said "our prayers remain in Charleston."

The Iftar dinner, which continues a tradition started by President Clinton and continued by President George W. Bush, featured nearly the entire diplomatic corps representing the Islamic world as well as a few young Muslim Americans Obama held up as examples of what can be achieved in the United States. There were about 150 guests, including some members of Congress.

Ramadan lasts a month and marks the time when Muslims believe the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. "It’s a time of spiritual renewal and a reminder of one’s duty to our fellow man -- to serve one another and lift up the less fortunate," Obama said.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours and since June 21 is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere the White House meal was served promptly. Because of the lunar calendar, Ramadan falls at different times of the year.

Obama linked tolerance within the United States to American goals abroad. "These are the freedoms and the ideals, and the values that we uphold," he said. "And it’s more important than ever, because around the world and here at home, there are those who seek to divide us by religion or race or sect."

The president held up several Muslim Americans as models.

Ziad Ahmed, 16, a Bangladeshi-American growing up in New Jersey, two years ago founded Redefy, a Web site to combat harmful stereotypes by encouraging teens like him to share their stories.

Munira Khalif, the daughter of Somali immigrants, started an organization to support girls’ education in East Africa.  Though she just graduated from high school in Minnesota, Obama noted, she’s already lobbied Congress to pass the Girls Count Act so that girls in the developing world are documented at birth. Obama signed the bill into law last week. She was accepted to all eight Ivy League colleges and will attend Harvard.

Batoul Abuharb, born in a refugee camp in Gaza, grew up in Houston and graduated from Rice University. After spending a summer in Gaza working with a United Nations health clinic, she started Dunia Health to improve the distribution of vaccines. The United Nations is now planning to expand Dunia’s work to more countries across the Middle East, Obama said.

The president also mentioned Samantha Elauf, who went to the Supreme Court to defend the right to wear a hijab without sacrificing job opportunities at Abercrombie & Fitch. And she won, Obama noted.



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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