Transcript:Obama's Speech at Iftar Dinner - Remarks on 9/11 Mosque lauded by Islamist Groups
August 15, 2010
THE WHITE HOUSE
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT IFTAR DINNER
State Dining Room
Good evening, everybody. Welcome. Please, have a seat. Well, 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. So welcome, all of you.
Here at the White House, we have a tradition of hosting iftars that goes back several years, just as we host Christmas parties and seders and Diwali celebrations. And 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 of 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 stark contrast to the religious conflict that persists elsewhere around the globe.
Now, that's not to say that religion is without controversy. Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities -– particularly 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. And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. And 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 everyone else in this country. (Applause.) And 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 that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.
We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who led the 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 also remember who we're fighting against, and what we're fighting for. Our enemies respect no religious freedom. Al Qaeda's cause is not Islam -– it's a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders -– they're terrorists who murder innocent men and 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.
So that's who we're 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, or wealth, or status. Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect towards those who are different from us –- and that way of life, that quintessentially American creed, 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 every culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. And that diversity can bring difficult debates. This is not unique to our time. 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, and stay true to our core values, and emerge stronger for it. So it must be -– and will be -– today.
And 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 a 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. (Applause.)
Like so many other immigrants, generations of Muslims came to forge their future here. They became farmers and merchants, worked in mills and factories. They helped lay the railroads. They helped to 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 50 states —- also serve their neighbors. Muslim Americans protect our communities as police officers and 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 on, 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 slowly but surely 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 great religion, including Islam —- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
So thank you all for being here. I wish you a blessed Ramadan. And with that, let us eat. (Applause.)
MIM: Islamist groups laud Obama's Iftar speech.
ICNA Commends President Obama's Iftar Speech
—FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—
JAMAICA, New York (August 15, 2010) – In a press release issued today the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) commended President Barack Obama for his Ramadan dinner speech at the White House on Friday in which he strongly defended the legitimate rights of the Muslim community amidst the unwanted controversy regarding the proposed location of the "Cordova Center" near ground Zero in lower Manhattan of New York City. ICNA also thanked the NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his unrelenting support for building the proposed "Islamic center and mosque" near Ground Zero.
ICNA understands and empathizes with the feelings of those who lost their loved ones in the terrorist attack of 9/11 (ICNA itself lost one of its activists in this attack), but that shouldn't be the cause of opposing construction of any mosque near Ground Zero.
ICNA is concerned by the recent rise of Islamophobia, and condemns those whose aim is to deny American Muslims their basic, legitimate right to build a house of worship. Such freedoms are granted to those of all faiths, and to promote bigoted views regarding this center is to undermine the principles of the Constitution.
Dr. Zahid Bukhari, President of ICNA said, "There have been times in the history of our nation when the core principles of freedom of worship, justice and equality for all were tested. I have no doubt that these values will prevail again and make our nation even stronger against extremism, bigotry and now Islamophobia." At the annual White House Iftar Dinner, President Obama addressed the mosque controversy saying, "Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country… This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are." Mayor Bloomberg also made compelling statements regarding the center. "We would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan… We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that."
Dr. Bukhari thanked President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg for their support of the Muslim community, saying their statements "protect the core American values of tolerance and religious freedom. These remarks embrace the diversity and unity that Americans stand for, and testify to the foundations upon which this country was built. We must not succumb to those who attempt to deny these freedoms to any group." He also extended his thanks to New York's Landmark Preservation Commission for denying landmark status to the center's proposed location, essentially clearing hurdles for its construction.
The Islamic Circle of North America is a leading American Muslim organization dedicated to the betterment of society through the promotion of Islamic values. Since 1968, ICNA has worked to build relations between communities by devoting itself to education, outreach, social services and relief efforts.
Press Contact: Naeem Baig
President Obama Defends Freedom of Religion in America
Plainfield, IN - Aug 14, 2010) Friday evening, at an iftar hosted at the White House, President Obama issued a clear statement that the rights of Muslims to practice their religion in America must be protected. President Obama spoke for the first time on the controversy surrounding the construction of "Cordoba House," a proposed mosque and Islamic Center in New York City, New York.
Some are calling this one of the most courageous acts taken by a president lately. Civil rights lawyer and author Glenn Greenwald called this "one of the most impressive and commendable things Obama has done since being inaugurated."
More than 100 Muslim leaders from around the world joined President Obama at Friday's White House iftar, including ISNA President Dr. Ingrid Mattson and ISNA Vice President Imam Mohamed Magid. Muslim diplomats from around the world, political, religious, and community leaders were also in attendance at the dinner.
"Let me be clear: as a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country," said the President, adding, "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 unshakable."
Many conservatives and family members of those who lost loved ones in the tragic 9-11 attacks have issued concerns about the building of the mosque so close to the site of the tragedy. Speaking in direct response to their concerns last night, President Obama said America must never forget the tragedy of 9-11 and we must honor those who died working and providing relief that day, Muslims included, but that we must not confuse terrorists with the religion itself.
"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," said the President.
The President spoke highly of the diversity that is the United States, stating, "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...today our nation is strengthened by millions of Muslim Americans."
He also spoke to the long history of Presidential support for iftars and the diversity within the Muslim faith, "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."
ISNA President Dr. Ingrid Mattson states, "ISNA thanks the President for his strong and articulate support of the Muslim community and our rights here tonight. It was made clear that the right to religious freedom for all, including Muslim Americans, is supported by our President"
Earlier last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also issued his strong statement of support for the Cordoba House and protection of religious freedom for Muslims and all Americans.
"ISNA is proud of the positive leadership shown by President Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. There is more work to be done to protect the civil rights of Muslim Americans, and ISNA hopes elected officials across the country will join the President and Mayor to bravely protect those rights as well," said Dr. Mattson.
To view video of the entire speech of President Obama at the White House Iftar, please click here.
(Photo Courtesy of CNN)
MPAC Commends President Obama for Upholding Religious Freedom During White House Iftar
August 14, 2010
During his remarks at the White House's annual iftar held last night, President Barack Obama stressed the central value of religious freedom, saying America should "treat everyone equal regardless" of religion. MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati along with intern Saaliha Khan were honored to be guests at the event.
President Obama pointed out that Thomas Jefferson was the first American President to host a White House iftar, in honor of Tunisian dignitaries over 200 years ago. He noted that Americans of various faiths - including Jews and Catholics - seeking to build their houses of worship have faced discrimination in the past, they were able to overcome those challenges and enriched our nation's pluralism in the process.
"The President's made a historic speech in favor of religious freedom. He and Mayor Bloomberg have set the standard for other political leaders to preserve America's open society," said MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati. "The President landed a major blow against Al-Qaeda's false narrative that America is at war with Islam. We hope that other religious and civic groups will stand behind the President's commitment for openness and tolerance."
President Obama also mentioned that Muslim religious leaders have condemned violent extremism and that thousands of American Muslims proudly and bravely serve in our Armed Forces.
MPAC intern Saaliha Khan, a student at Georgetown University, had the privilege of sitting at the President's table. Al-Marayati and Khan thanked the President for his stand, reaffirmed the Muslim American community's commitment to civic engagement, and committed to empowering more young Muslim American leaders to engage in public service in our nation's capitol and around the country.