Barack Obama celebrated the Islamic month of Ramadan for the fourth year in a row last Friday by hosting an Iftar dinner at the White House. The observance carries on the tradition started by Bill Clinton, and continued by George W. Bush.
“This evening, we’re honored to be joined by members of our diplomatic corps, members of Congress — including Muslim American members of Congress, Keith Ellison and Andre Carson — as well as leaders from across my administration,” he announced during his speech at the dinner. “And to you, the millions of Muslim Americans across our country, and to the more than one billion Muslims around the world — Ramadan Kareem.”
During his brief address to attendees, Obama played off of the 2012 Olympic theme “The Year of the Woman,” and spoke of the contributions of Muslim women to society.
“[W]e’ve seen the extraordinary courage of Muslim women during the Arab Spring — women, right alongside men, taking to the streets to claim their universal rights, marching for their freedom, blogging and Tweeting and posting videos, determined to be heard,” he explained. “They are faith leaders like Sanaa Nadim, one of the first Muslim chaplains at an American college — a voice for interfaith dialogue who’s had the opportunity to meet with the Pope to discuss these issues.”
He especially saluted Huma Abedin, a Muslim woman who serves as an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“These are the faces of Islam in America. These are just a few of the Muslim Americans who strengthen our country every single day,” Obama declared. “This is the diversity that makes us Americans; the pluralism that we will never lose.”
He also condemned the recent shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, stating that violence is never acceptable in America.
“[W]e will defend the freedom of religion, here at home and around the world. And as we do, we’ll draw on the strength and example of our interfaith community, including the leaders who are here tonight,” Obama concluded. “So, I want to thank all of you for honoring us with your presence, for the example of your lives, and for your commitment to the values that make us ‘one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ God bless you. God bless America.”
While Obama has hosted Iftar dinners for all four 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 dinner that he believes the observance was actually started 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.”
Some are angered by these remarks and say that the president is lying.
“Obama isn’t telling the truth about Jefferson or Islam,” writes 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.'”
“Obama is trying to rewrite American history to make us believe that Islam has always been a positive force for good in our society. The truth is that our nation’s first foreign war involved Islamic pirates,” the site continues. “We’re still fighting the same war, but now the Muslims have an ally in the White House – a man who bows to a Saudi Prince, turns NASA into a Muslim outreach program and rewrites history to portray ruthless Islam as American as apple pie.”