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Obama Hosts Ramadan Dinner At White House

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Scroll down for full text of Obama's opening remarks

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama is hosting a dinner celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Obama was also to highlight the contributions of American Muslims at the Tuesday evening event in the State Dining Room.

The guest list included Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, ambassadors from Islamic nations, Muslim community leaders and notably Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren.

When asked about the decision to invite Ambassador Oren, White House spokesman Thomas Vietor said:

"Tonight was an opportunity to continue the tradition of hosting iftars at the White House, while celebrating Muslim Americans, and tonight's dinner is made up of a diverse group of individuals from business leaders to members of the US military,"

Ramadan, a monthlong period of prayer, reflection and sunrise-to-sunset fasts, began Aug. 22 in most of the Islamic world.

Obama filmed a Ramadan greeting earlier this month:

White House dinners marking the holy month are nothing new.

During his eight years in office, former President George W. Bush held an iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan. Former President Bill Clinton started the practice.

Here is the full text of Obama's remarks:

THE PRESIDENT: Please, everybody have a seat. Thank you. Well, it is my great pleasure to host all of you here at the White House to mark this special occasion -- Ramadan Kareem.

I want to say that I'm deeply honored to welcome so many members of the diplomatic corps, as well as several members of my administration and distinguished members of Congress, including the first two Muslims to serve in Congress -- Keith Ellison and Andre Carson. Where are they? (Applause.)

Just a few other acknowledgements I want to make. We have Senator Richard Lugar here, who's our Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Where is Dick Lugar? There he is. (Applause.) Representative John Conyers, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. (Applause.) Representative Rush Holt is here. Thank you, Rush. (Applause.) Have we found you a seat, Rush? (Laughter.)

REPRESENTATIVE HOLT: I'm on my way to the train. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: I got you.

We also have here -- Secretary of Defense Gates is here. Secretary Gates. (Applause.) Our Attorney General, Eric Holder. (Applause.) And Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius is here. (Applause.)

And most of all, I want to welcome all the American Muslims from many walks of life who are here. This is just one part of our effort to celebrate Ramadan, and continues a long tradition of hosting iftars here at the White House.

For well over a billion Muslims, Ramadan is a time of intense devotion and reflection. It's a time of service and support for those in need. And it is also a time for family and friends to come together in a celebration of their faith, their communities, and the common humanity that all of us share. It is in that spirit that I welcome each and every one of you to the White House.

Tonight's iftar is a ritual that is also being carried out this Ramadan at kitchen tables and mosques in all 50 states. Islam, as we know, is part of America. And like the broader American citizenry, the American Muslim community is one of extraordinary dynamism and diversity -- with families that stretch back generations and more recent immigrants; with Muslims of countless races and ethnicities, and with roots in every corner of the world.

Indeed, the contribution of Muslims to the United States are too long to catalog because Muslims are so interwoven into the fabric of our communities and our country. American Muslims are successful in business and entertainment; in the arts and athletics; in science and in medicine. Above all, they are successful parents, good neighbors, and active citizens.

So on this occasion, we celebrate the Holy Month of Ramadan, and we also celebrate how much Muslims have enriched America and its culture -- in ways both large and small. And with us here tonight, we see just a small sample of those contributions. Let me share a few stories with you briefly.

Elsheba Khan's son, Kareem, made the ultimate sacrifice for his country when he lost his life in Iraq. Kareem joined the military as soon as he finished high school. He would go on to win the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, along with the admiration of his fellow soldiers. In describing her son, Elsheba said, "He always wanted to help any way that he could." Tonight, he's buried alongside thousands of heroes in Arlington National Cemetery. A crescent is carved into his grave, just as others bear the Christian cross or the Jewish star. These brave Americans are joined in death as they were in life -- by a common commitment to their country, and the values that we hold dear.

One of those values is the freedom to practice your religion -- a right that is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Nashala Hearn, who joins us from Muskogee, Oklahoma, took a stand for that right at an early age. When her school district told her that she couldn't wear the hijab, she protested that it was a part of her religion. The Department of Justice stood behind her, and she won her right to practice her faith. She even traveled to Washington to testify before Congress. Her words spoke to a tolerance that is far greater than mistrust -- when she first wore her headscarf to school, she said, "I received compliments from the other kids."

Another young woman who has thrived in her school is Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir. She's not even 5'5 -- where's Bilqis? Right here. Stand up, Bilqis, just so that we -- (laughter) -- I want everybody to know -- she's got heels on. She's 5'5 -- Bilqis broke Rebecca Lobo's record for the most points scored by any high school basketball player in Massachusetts history. (Applause.) She recently told a reporter, "I'd like to really inspire a lot of young Muslim girls if they want to play basketball. Anything is possible. They can do it, too." As an honor student, as an athlete on her way to Memphis, Bilqis is an inspiration not simply to Muslim girls -- she's an inspiration to all of us.

Of course, we know that when it comes to athletes who have inspired America, any list would include the man known simply as The Greatest. And while Muhammad Ali could not join us tonight, it is worth reflecting upon his remarkable contributions, as he's grown from an unmatched fighter in the ring to a man of quiet dignity and grace who continues to fight for what he believes -- and that includes the notion that people of all faiths holds things in common. I love this quote. A few years ago, he explained this view -- and this is part of why he's The Greatest -- saying, "Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams -- they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do -- they all contain truths."

They all contain truths. Among those truths are the pursuit of peace and the dignity of all human beings. That must always form the basis upon which we find common ground. And that is why I am so pleased that we are joined tonight not only by so many outstanding Muslim Americans and representatives of the diplomatic corps, but people of many faiths -- Christians, Jews, and Hindus -- along with so many prominent Muslims.

Together, we have a responsibility to foster engagement grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect. And that's one of my fundamental commitments as President, both at home and abroad. That is central to the new beginning that I've sought between the United States and Muslims around the world. And that is a commitment that we can renew once again during this holy season.

So tonight, we celebrate a great religion, and its commitment to justice and progress. We honor the contributions of America's Muslims, and the positive example that so many of them set through their own lives. And we rededicate ourselves to the work of building a better and more hopeful world.

So thanks to all of you for taking the time to be here this evening. I wish you all a very blessed Ramadan. And with that, I think we can start a feast. I don't know what's on the menu, but I'm sure it will be good. (Laughter.) Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)

Washington Examiner White House Correspondent Julie Mason filed this pool report from tonight's dinner:

Ramadan dinner in the State Dining Room: Green tablecoths, tall white
tapers surrounding muted floral centerpieces. The china was cream with
a heavy gold border (looked like the Clinton china but cannot verify)
Obama entered the room and spoke from behind the less-obtrusive
podium, set up under the Lincoln portrait. No TOTUS, he had prepared
remarks in front of him -- see transcript.

Noted in the room were Muslim lawmakers Keith Ellison and Andre
Carson. Also present were Peter Orszag, John Conyers, Eric Holder,
Robert Gates, Kathleen Sebelius and David Axelrod.

Obama also spied Rush Holt, and the fact that the congressman didn't
seem to have a chair. "I'm on my way to the train," Holt said. White
House invites -- not what they used to be. After Obama's remarks, the
podium was whisked away and he took a seat for dinner. Your pool was
shown the door.

Outside the State Dining Room in the Grand Foyer, a round table held a
raised platter of figs -- a traditional feature at the Iftar dinner.

Below is a full guest list of those expected to attend tonight's event.

CABINET

Secretary Robert Gates, Department of Defense

Attorney General Eric Holder, Department of Justice

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services

DEPUTY CABINET SECRETARIES

Deputy Secretary Dennis Hightower, Department of Commerce

Deputy Secretary Adam Miller, Department of Education

MEMBERS OF CONGRESS

Congressman Andre Carson (Indiana 7th)

Congressman John Conyers (Michigan 14th)

Congressman Keith Ellison (Minnesota 5th)

Congressman Rush Holt (New Jersey 12th)

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN)

DIPLOMATIC CORPS

Ambassador Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al Hussein, Jordan

Ambassador Adel A.M. Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia

Ambassador Husain Haqqani, Pakistan

Ambassador Erlan A. Idrissov, Kazakhstan

Ambassador His Excellency Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan

Ambassador Aziz Mekouar, Morocco

Ambassador Peter N.R.O. Ogego, Kenya

Ambassador Roble Olhaye, D'jibouti

Ambassador Michael Oren, Israel

Ambassador Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat, Indonesia

Ambassador Klaus Scharioth, Germany

Ambassador Meera Shankar, India

Ambassador Nabi Sensoy, Turkey

Ambassador Sir Nigel Elton Sheinwald, United Kingdom

Ambassador Sameh Hassan Shoukry, Egypt

Ambassador Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaida'ie, Iraq

Ambassador Pierre Nicolas Vimont, France

Chargé d'Affaires Sheikh Mohammed Belal, Bangladesh

Chargé d'Affaires Ilango Karuppanan, Malaysia

Chargé d'Affaires Mohamed O Maiga,

Chargé d'Affaires Angela Oi Foong Shim, Brunei

Chargé d'Affaires Baba Gana Wakil, Nigeria

Mr. Maen Areikat, Chief of Mission, PLO

COMMUNITY MEMBERS

Ms. Bilquis Abdul-Qaadir, University of Memphis

Professor Azizah Al-Hibri, University of Richmond School of Law

Ms. Reema Ali, Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights

Mr. Hasan Chandoo, Oppenheimer & Co.

Rabbi Nathan Diament, Director, Institute for Public Affairs, Orthodox Union*

Imam Plemon El-Amin, Atlanta Masjid al-Islam

Mr. Wahid Hamid, PepsiCo

Ms. Dina Hammad

Mr. Lutfi Hassan

Ms. Nashala Hearn

Ms. Rosalind Hearn

Imam Yahya Hendi, Chaplain, Georgetown University

Pastor Joel Hunter, Northland Church*

Mr. Nooman Husain

Mr. Imad Hussain

Mr. Sanford Ibrahim, CEO, Radian Group

Mr. Jameel Jaffer, Staff Attorney, ACLU

Mrs. Elsheba Khan

Dr. Mansur Khan, UMMA Community Clinic

Ms. Farhana Khera, Muslim Advocates

Lt. Commander Abuhena Saifulislam, U.S. Marine Corps

Mr. Kareem Salama

Imam Yusuf Saleem, Masjid Muhammad

Dr. Ingrid Mattson, President, Islamic Society of North America

Mr. Farooq Mitha

Ms. Dalia Mogahed, Director, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies*

Ms. Hutham Olayan, Olayan America Corp.

Mr. Eboo Patel, Interfaith Youth Corps*

Imam Yusuf Saleem, Masjid Muhammad

Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism*

Ms. Mina Trudeau, Executive Director, El Fatiha Foundation

Mr. J. Saleh Williams, Congressional Muslim Staffers Association

Mr. Mohamed Zakariya, Zakariya Calligraphy

*denotes members of the President's Council on Faith-based and
Neighborhood Partnerships