ABC News' Sarah Tobianski reports: During the White House’s celebration of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan this evening, President Obama highlighted the contributions of Muslim Americans, talking about how much the Muslim community has enriched American culture “in ways both large and small.”
“The contributions of Muslims to the United States are too long to catalogue because Muslims are so interwoven into the fabric of our communities and our country,” the President said to begin the night’s iftar – or fast-breaking – dinner in the State Dining Room. “American Muslims are successful in business and entertainment, the arts and athletics, in science and in medicine. Above all, they are successful parents, good neighbors and active citizens.”
Surrounded by members of his cabinet, Congress, the diplomatic corps and some members of the Muslim community, the President acknowledged the religion’s prominent place in our country saying Ramadan celebrations are being “carried out at tables and mosques in all 50 states.”
The Muslim religion, he said, “as long as we know it, is part of America and like the broader American citizenry, the American Muslim community is one of extraordinary dynamism and diversity.”
Ramadan is the Islamic month of prayer and reflection, in which Muslim participants refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and other indulgences from sunrise to sunset. Participants break their day-long fasts with iftar meals at sunset. The holiday began last Saturday in most of the Islamic world.
The president paid special tribute to Kareem Khan, who “made the ultimate sacrifice” when he died serving in Iraq, Nashala Hearn, who won the right to wear a hijab in school, Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, who holds the record for the most points scored by a high school basketball player in Massachusetts, and Muhammad Ali, who – though he couldn’t attend – is “a man of quiet dignity and grace and continues to fight for what he believes.”
The president noted the long tradition of hosting iftars at the White House, a tradition of former President Bush, who held eight Ramadan dinners in office. It was part President Bush’s outreach to stress that America isn’t at war with Islam, but with violent extremists.
The celebration tonight was part of President Obama’s “on-going dialogue” with the Muslim community, which started with a message in his inaugural speech and continued with trips to Ankara and Cairo, a statement on the Muslim new year holiday, Nowruz, and appearances on Al Arabiya and Dawn TV.
“Together we have a responsibility to foster engagement grounded in mutual interests and mutual respect,” President Obama said. “And that is one of my fundamental commitments as president – both at home and abroad. That is central to the new beginning I have sought between the United States and Muslims around the world. That is a commitment we can renew once again during this holy season.”
President Obama, himself, has Muslim family members and spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, where he learned about both Christian and Muslim religions in school.