The Ramadan dinner at the White House
President Barack Obama (D) worked very hard on his official vacation on Martha's Vineyard, reappointing Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve Chairman and speaking at the late Senator Edward Kennedy's (D-MA) funeral.
So now he's off to Camp David for an extended Labor Day week end break. OK, he deserves it. But in between his vacations he managed to sandwich in hosting a White House dinner for the Muslim month of Ramadan, when Muslims believe Muhammad received the Koran. There is a long tradition of presidential dinners acknowledging important holidays or anniversaries of the various religions and ethnicities in this country.
Speaking to the Muslims, government leaders and other invited guests at the dinner, Obama celebrated ,"how much Muslims have enriched America and its culture -- in ways both large and small."
One of those values is the freedom to practice your religion -- a right that is enshrined in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. Nashala Hearn, who joins us from Muskogee, Okla., 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."
Good for the Department of Justice. However--and understandably--Obama did not mention the case of Rifqa Bary, the American teen ager born to Muslim immigrant parents who fled her home, fearing her parents would kill her after her conversion to Christianity.
In 150 generations in family, no one has known Jesus. I am the first -- imagine the honor in killing me? There is great honor in that, because if they love Allah more than me, they have to do it. It's in the Koran. I'm fighting for my life. You guys don't understand. ... I want to worship Jesus freely, that's what I want. I don't want to die."
Yes, it is understandable that parents would be deeply pained when their beloved child rejects a deeply held philosophy, a way of life they cherish and adopts another. But to kill her for that? But honor killings are a part of the culture of Muslim countries, apparently a tradition some have imported here.
And as for freedom to practice your religion--just try being a Christian or a Bahai or a Jew or a Hindu in Saudi Arabia. Other Muslim countries allow limited religious freedom to others--as long as the practioners realize they are dhimmis, scorned, second class citizens subject to onerous restrictions.
In America, Muslims have carried out numerous attacks against Jews and their institutions.
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.
Yes, we most certainly do "have a responsibility to foster engagement grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect." The key word though, is mutual. So far it has been one sided--the other side hasn't reciprocated much but rejected much. Perhaps Muslims can renew this mutual interest and respect "during this holy season" for them.
So tonight, we celebrate a great religion and its commitment to justice and progress.
But to Muslims, happy Ramadan. And enjoy your American freedoms.
hat tip: Cheryl Lewin