I HAD the distinct honor of being invited to address this year’s Iftar dinner at the Pentagon, together with Ms. Farah Pandith, the State Department’s Special Representative to Muslim Communities, and Ms. Dalia Mogahed, of the Gallup Corporation. In attendance were over 125 American Muslims, members of every branch of the US military, and their guests from the White House, Congress and other government agencies.
The evening provided an opportunity for reflection on the changes that are occurring among American Muslims and in the US’ relationship with Islam.
When I first came to this city, over 30 years ago, there were no Iftars, nor was there any formal recognition of Ramadan or the Eids by anyone, anywhere. I can recall going to the Reagan White House to propose a presidential Eid message and being asked to write it. And then reminding them each year after that.
The practice was broadened and institutionalized during the Clinton years, with President Bush adding an Iftar dinner, which he hosted each year of his presidency.
At this point, there are Iftars all over this city — the White House, State Department, Congress, National Security Agency, and more.
A primary factor accounting for this change and the growing recognition being given to Ramadan, is the presence and vitality of a growing Muslim community. There are thousands of Muslims serving in the US military and hundreds serving in every branch and agency of the US government.
It is not just that the US is heavily engaged in the Muslim World, it is that America’s Muslim community is no longer invisible. Their presence, hard work and contributions to our country are being recognized. And with that, their faith is being appreciated. A tribute to American Muslims, yes — but also a tribute to the capacity of America to grow and change.
In many ways, this is a unique country. One of our most enduring qualities is our openness and the absorptive character of our national identity. Despite the persistent rantings of some bigots, no one religion, ethnicity or culture defines us or limits who can be one of us. For more read here.