WASHINGTON — Barack Obama celebrated the Islamic holiday of Ramadan on Thursday by hosting his fifth annual Iftar dinner, a tradition that began with then President Bill Clinton and was continued by Bush and Obama.
Members of the Obama administration, Congress and others of the Muslim religion were present at the event, which was held at the White House state dining room.
“Here at the White House, we now have a tradition of celebrating the sacred days of our various faiths,” Obama declared to those gathered. “And these are occasions to reflect on the teachings that so many religions share; to celebrate the diversity that defines our country; and to reaffirm one of our most deeply held beliefs, that here in America and around the world, people should be free to choose the God that they worship however they choose, to practice their faiths freely, or to practice no faith at all.”
He then proceeded to outline how “Islam has contributed to the character of our country.”
“Muslim Americans, and their good works, have helped to build our nation–and we’ve seen the results,” Obama stated. “We’ve seen those results in generations of Muslim immigrants–farmers and factory workers, helping to lay the railroads and build our cities. Muslim innovators who helped build some of our highest skyscrapers and who helped to unlock the secrets of our universe.”
During his speech, the president acknowledged attendees of the dinner and their accomplishments, including Shazi Visram, the founder of Happy Family, an organic food company that feeds hungry children; Aunim Hossan, creator of Tista Games and designer of a device to detect breast cancer; and Dr. Iya Khalil, a bio-tech researcher and genomic medicine specialist.
“Whoever does an atom’s weight of gold [good] will see its results,” Obama said, quoting from the Koran. “When I look around the room tonight, beyond the communities you represent, I see all the profound good that’s been accomplished. So all of us are seeing the results of your good work–the opportunities to create for your colleagues and your communities and for our country.”
“So I want to thank you for what you do, and for reminding us that our nation is stronger and more successful when we harness the talents of all Americans–no matter where we come from, or what we look like, what our last names are, or how we pray,” he concluded. “God bless you all. May you and your families have a blessed Ramadan.”
As previously reported, while Obama has hosted Iftar dinners for all five years of his presidency, the tradition was started by Bill Clinton in 1993. It was continued by George W. Bush for all eight years in office.
“According to Muslim teachings, God first revealed His word in the Holy Qur’an to the prophet, Muhammad, during the month of Ramadan. That word has guided billions of believers across the centuries, and those believers built a culture of learning and literature and science,” Bush remarked at a 2001 Ramadan event, as documented in White House archives. “All the world continues to benefit from this faith and its achievements.”
However, Obama stated during the 2012 dinner that he believes the observance was actually initiated by President Thomas Jefferson.
“As I’ve noted before, Thomas Jefferson once held a sunset dinner here with an envoy from Tunisia—perhaps the first Iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago. And some of you, as you arrived tonight, may have seen our special display, courtesy of our friends at the Library of Congress—the Koran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson,” he stated. “And that’s a reminder, along with the generations of patriotic Muslims in America, that Islam—like so many faiths—is part of our national story.”
However, some disagreed that Jefferson’s research of the Koran was meant to be perceived in a positive light.
“Obama isn’t telling the truth about Jefferson or Islam,” wrote the website Government is Not God. “Jefferson obtained a copy of the Koran in order to study the words of Mohammed, the cruel leader whose teachings had inspired the ruthless Barbary Pirates. These pirates were targeting American shipping and Jefferson eventually sent the Marines to Morocco to deal with them. This event has been memorialized in the Marine Corps battle hymn that refers to the ‘shores of Tripoli.’”
Photo: White House/Lawrence Jackson