Office of the Press Secretary
11:30 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much, Eid Mubarak, and welcome to the White House. N'Imah Saleem, you did a fine job for a 14-year-old, or a 24-year-old, or a 44-year-old. I thought she was terrific. Thank you very much, thank you. (Applause.)
And, Imam Hendi, thank you so much for your words, your prayer, and for serving as the first Muslim chaplain of my alma mater, Georgetown University. Congratulations. We're glad to have you here. Thank you, sir. (Applause.)
I'd like to welcome others from the administration who very joined us -- our National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger; Assistant Secretary of State Harold Koh. We also have a White House fellow here, Khalid Azim; and Dr. Islam Siddiqui, the senior advisor to the Secretary of Agriculture and the highest ranking Muslim in the Clinton administration. We thank him for being here. We have a Muslim Army chaplain, Captain Muhammad. We thank him for being here, and the other Muslims who work here in the White House -- they are all particularly welcome -- and all the rest of you who have come here. Let me say welcome to you. (Applause.)
My friend, Rasheed, thank you for leading the applause there. I always try to have someone in the audience there who is pumping the crowd at the right time. (Laughter.)
Let me also say a special word of welcome to you from the First Lady. Hillary has done this celebration for the past several years; many of you have been here with her. And she had to be out of the city today, and that's the only reason she's not here, because this means so very much to her. And I want to welcome you here on her behalf, as well.
Over the weekend, along with Muslims all over the world, you celebrated the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The month of daily fasting is not only a sacred duty, it is also a powerful teaching, and in many ways a gift of Islam to the entire rest of the world -- reminding not simply Muslims, but all people, of our shared obligation to aid those who live with poverty and suffering. It reminds us that we must work together to build a more humane world.
I must say, it was, I thought, especially fitting that we celebrated the Eid at the end of the first round of the talks between the Syrians and the Israelis. And I thought it was particularly moving that Imam read the passage from the Koran that said that Allah created nations and tribes that we might know one another, not that we might despise one another.
There's a wonderful passage in the Hebrew Torah, which warns people never to turn aside the stranger, for it is like turning aside the most high God. And the Christian Bible says that people should love their neighbor as themselves. But it's quite wonderful to say that Allah created the nations and tribes that they might know one another better, recognizing people have to organize their thoughts and categorize their ideas, but that does not mean we should be divided one from another.
It has been a great blessing for me, being involved in these talks these last few days, to see the impact of the month of Ramadan and the Eid on the believers in the Syrian delegation who are here. It was quite a moving thing. And I hope that your prayers will stay with them.
Let me say, also, that there is much that the world can learn from
Islam. It is now practiced by one of every four people on Earth.
Americans are learning more in our schools and universities. Indeed, I
remember that our daughter took a course on Islamic history in high
school and read large portions of the Koran, and came home at night and
educated her parents about it, and later asked us questions about it.
And, of course, there are now 6 million Muslims in our nation today. The number of mosques and Islamic centers, now at 1,200, continues to grow very rapidly.
Today, Muslim Americans are a cornerstone of our American community. They enrich our political and cultural life, they provide leadership in every field of human endeavor, from business to medicine, to scholarship. And I think it is important that the American people are beginning to learn that Muslims trace their roots to all parts of the globe -- not just to the Middle East, but also to Africa, and to Asia, and to the Balkans and other parts of Europe. You share with all Americans common aspirations for a better future, for greater opportunities for children, for the importance of work and family and freedom to worship.
But like other groups past and present in America, Muslim Americans also have faced from time to time -- and continue to face, sadly, from time to time -- discrimination, intolerance and, on occasion, even violence. There are still too many Americans who know too little about Islam. Too often stereotypes fill the vacuum ignorance creates. That kind of bigotry is wrong, has no place in American society. There is no place for intolerance against people of any faith -- against Muslims or Jews or Christians, or Buddhists or Ba'Hai -- or any other religious group, or ethnic or racial group.
If America wishes to be a force for peace and reconciliation across religious and ethnic divides from the Middle East to Northern Ireland to the Balkans, to Africa, to Asia -- if that is what we wish -- if we wish to do good around the world, we must first be good here at home on these issues. (Applause.)
I ask all of you to help with that, to share the wellsprings of your faith with those who are different, to help people understand the values and the humanity that we share in common, and the texture and fabric and fiber and core of the beliefs and practices of Islam.
Children do not come into the world hating people of different tribes and faiths. That is something they learn to do. They either are explicitly taught to do it, or they learn to do it by following the example of others, or they learn to do it in reaction to oppression that they, themselves, experience. And those of us who are adults have a responsibility to change those childhoods, to give this generation of children around the world a different future than so many have played out tragically in the last few years.
I think it is quite ironic that at the end of the Cold War, when a system of atheistic, controlling communism has failed and been rejected, our latest demon seems to be the old-fashioned one of people fighting each other because they are of different religious faiths, or racial or ethnic heritages. We know that is not at the core of any religious teaching. We know it is not at the core of Islam.
So I ask you again to rededicate yourselves in this coming year to making sure that others in this country truly understand and appreciate the faith you embrace, its practices, its beliefs, its precepts and its inclusive humanity. Thank you. (Applause.)
The Koran also teaches, in addition, to the fact that we should do unto others as we wish to have done to us, and reject for others what we would reject for ourselves, but we should also make a commitment to live in peace. There is a new moon that has risen at the end of Ramadan and a new millennium marked in many nations. And again, I say to you as we leave, in addition to your prayers and work for peace and understanding and reconciliation within the United States, I ask especially for your prayers for the current mission of peace in the Middle East.
We are on a track in which the Israelis, the Syrians, I hope soon the Lebanese, and already the Palestinians, have committed themselves to work through these very difficult, longstanding issues over the course of the next two months -- the longstanding commitment between the Palestinians and the Israelis to resolve their business by next month. So this will be a time of great tension, where all people will have to search for wisdom and understanding, where there will be great reluctance to open the closed fist and walk out into a new era.
And I think that the prayers of Muslims, Jews, Christians and people of goodwill all over the world will be needed for us to get through these next several weeks. But for you, I hope it is an immense source of pride that you live in a country that is trying to make peace in the land where your faith was born. Thank you. (Applause.)
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