US President Barack Obama hosted an 'iftaar' party at the White House during which he highlighted the role of faith in the lives of Americans and the tradition of celebrating all festivals, including Diwali. "Here at the White House, we have a tradition of hosting iftaars that goes back several years, just as we host Christmas parties, seders and Diwali celebrations," Obama said in his remarks at the Iftaar party held at the State Dinner room of the White House last night.
Sitting in his audience was Indian Ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, one of the few non-Muslim diplomats attending the Iftaar.
"These events celebrate the role of faith in the lives of the American people. They remind us of the basic truth that we are all children of God, and we all draw strength and a sense of purpose from our beliefs," Obama said.
"In my inaugural address, I said that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth," Obama said.
That diversity can bring difficult debates, he said, adding that indeed, past eras have seen controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches.
"But time and again, the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues, stay true to our core values, and emerge stronger for it. So it must be – and will be – today," Obama said.
Ramadan, he said, is a reminder that Islam has always been part of America.
The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan, making it the first known iftaar at the White House, more than 200 years ago, he noted.
"Like so many other immigrants, generations of Muslims came here to forge their future. They became farmers and merchants, worked in mills and factories, and helped lay the railroads.
"They helped build America. They founded the first Islamic centre in New York City in the 1890s. They built America's first mosque on the prairie of North Dakota. And perhaps the oldest surviving mosque in America — still in use today — is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa," Obama said.
Washington, August 14, 2010, Hindustan times