President Obama said at tonight’s White House iftar dinner that many Americans don’t know Muslims personally and thus get “distorted” views on the religion’s adherents.
The iftar breaks the fast at the end of each day during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that began last week.
Guests at the White House dinner included ambassadors from Islamic countries and the two Muslims serving in Congress, Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Andre Carson (D-Ind.). This year Obama also invited Samantha Elauf, who recently won her lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch at the Supreme Court after being denied a job at a Tulsa store because she wears a headscarf.
The menu included vegetable salad with rosemary pita chips, lemon lamb, crushed peanut potatoes, French beans, chocolate flourless cake, cherry compote, chai tea, yogurt sorbet.
In his remarks to the dinner guests, Obama said the iftar was “a reminder of the freedoms that bind us together as Americans, including the freedom of religion — that inviolable right to practice our faiths freely.”
“Around the world and here at home, there are those who seek to divide us by religion or race or sect,” he said. “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.”
The president described “a group of protesters gathered outside with offensive signs against Islam and Muslims” at the mosque in Phoenix that was attended by the Garland, Texas, Muhammad cartoon contest attackers.
“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.”
Obama said they should keep in 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,” he said.
The reference to Gaza came as the United Nations accused Israel of war crimes in the conflict with Hamas; the White House didn’t comment on the details today but Israel allies in Washington expressed apprehension about whether the administration will stand behind Israel in the face of the allegations.
Obama told the iftar guests that “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,” he said. “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.’”