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The Presidents Hosts an Iftar Dinner

The Presidents Hosts an Iftar Dinner


The President: You don’t
have to all be this serious. (laughter) Welcome to the White House. Now, I know that these
are the longest days of the year, which is why
I’m so glad that they put the first course
down right away. (laughter) I know you’re hungry,
and I promise to be brief. I want to thank the members
of our diplomatic corps who are here today, as well as
our members of Congress, and all those serving across
government who are joining us. And I especially want to
recognize all the inspiring young people who are
here today, many of whom I’ve put at my table. To all of you, and to Muslim
Americans across the country — Ramadan Kareem. Our annual White House Iftar
recognizes the sacredness of Ramadan to more than
1.5 billion Muslims around the world. It’s a time when Muslims
recommit themselves to their faith, following days of
discipline with nights of gratitude for the
gifts that God bestows. 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. The Quran teaches that
God’s children should tread gently upon the
earth and, when confronted by ignorance, reply “peace.” In honoring these familiar
values together — of peace and charity and
forgiveness — we affirm that, whatever our faith,
we’re all one family. Our Iftar 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. That’s what Samantha
Elauf represents. She was determined to defend
the right to wear a hijab and to have the
same opportunities as everybody else. She went all the way to
the Supreme Court — which I didn’t
do at her age. (laughter) And she won. (applause) So, Samantha, we’re
very proud of you. When our values are
threatened, we come together as one nation. When three young Muslim
Americans were brutally murdered in Chapel Hill
earlier this year, Americans of all faiths
rallied around that community. And obviously, tonight, our
prayers remain with Charleston and Mother Emanuel church. 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. We stand united against
these hateful acts. These are the freedoms
and the ideals, and the values
that we uphold. 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. Here in America, many
people personally don’t know someone who is Muslim. They mostly hear about Muslims
in the news — and that can obviously lead to a very
distorted impression. We saw this play out recently
at a mosque in Arizona. A group of protestors gathered
outside with offensive signs against Islam and Muslims. And then the mosque’s
leaders invited them inside to share in
the evening prayer. One demonstrator, who
accepted the invitation later, described how the
experience changed him; how he finally saw the Muslim
American community for what it is — peaceful and welcoming. That’s what can happen
when we stop yelling and start listening. That’s why it’s so important
always to lift up the stories and voices of proud Americans
who are contributing to our country every day. And we have a lot of
inspiring Americans here today. They’re Muslim Americans
like Ziad Ahmed. As a Bangladeshi-American
growing up in New Jersey, he saw early on that there was
not enough understanding in the world. So two years ago,
he founded Redefy, a website to push back
against harmful stereotypes by encouraging teens like
him — he’s only 16; I think our youngest
guest tonight — to share their stories. (applause) Because, in Ziad’s
words, “ignorance can be defeated through
education.” He wants to do his part to
make sure that “Muslims can be equal members of society
and still hold onto their faith and identity.” So we’re very
proud of you, Ziad. They’re Muslim Americans
like Munira Khalif. And Munira is the daughter
of Somali immigrants; she started an organization
to support girls’ education in East Africa. She just graduated from
high school in Minnesota, and she’s already
lobbied Congress to pass the Girls Count Act so that
girls in the developing world are documented at birth —
a bill I was proud to sign into law last week. She’s even spoken at
the United Nations. I was also not doing
this at her age. (laughter and applause) This fall, Munira is heading to Harvard
to continue her education in public service —
which was a tough choice, because of course she was
accepted to all the Ivy League schools she applied to. But we are very,
very proud of you, and I know your
community is as well. They’re Muslim Americans
like Batoul Abuharb, who was born in a
refugee camp in Gaza, and when she was an infant
her family moved to Houston. After graduating
from Rice University, she spent a summer
in Gaza working with the U.N. health clinic. After seeing people line up
whenever new stocks of vaccines arrived, she started
Dunia Health to improve the distribution of
vaccines and tell families when to come in — all
over text message. They’ve started with
Palestinian refugees in Jordan, but the program has been so
successful that the U.N. is looking to expand Dunia’s
work to more countries across the Middle East. Batoul, we’re very
proud of you. Congratulations. (applause) So, Ziad, Munira, Batoul
— they all talk about how much they value the
opportunities they’ve had to succeed here
in the United States. And they also remind us that
our obligations to care for one another extend beyond
our immediate communities, beyond our borders. So tonight, we keep in our
prayers those who are suffering around the world, including
those marking Ramadan in areas of conflict and
deprivation and hunger. The people of Iraq and
Syria as they push back on the barbarity of ISIL. The people of Yemen and Libya,
who are seeking an end to ongoing violence
and instability. Those fleeing war and
hardship in boats across the Mediterranean. The people of Gaza,
still recovering from last year’s conflict. The Rohingya in Myanmar,
including migrants at sea, whose human
rights must be upheld. We’re proud, by the way, to have
Wai Wai Nu with us tonight — a former political prisoner
who’s working on human rights issues for the Rohingya and
equal rights for women. So we’re glad to have
you here with us tonight. (applause) So these challenges around
the world and here at home demand the very qualities
you summon every day during Ramadan: sacrifice,
discipline, patience. A resilience that says
we don’t simply endure, but we overcome. Together, we can overcome
ignorance and prejudice. Together, we will overcome
conflict and injustice — not just with words,
but with deeds. With what a hero of mine,
the civil rights icon John Lewis, calls using
our feet — getting out in the real world to organize
and to create the change that we seek. That’s what so many of
you do every single day. And that’s what we have to
continue to do together, here in America and
around the world. As the Quran teaches, let
us answer with “Peace.” May God bless you all. Have a wonderful Ramadan. And get back to dinner. (laughter) Thank you very much. (applause)

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