Minister of Knesset Dov Lipman, Ambassador of Jordan Walid Obeidat, religious leaders, honored guests. Good Evening, As-Salam Aleikum, Massa El Khair and Erev Tov! Julie and I are delighted to have you with us tonight to share this Iftar meal during the blessed month of Ramadan. This is the third Iftar meal we’ve hosted since we arrived, and we are pleased to see many familiar faces tonight. Our thanks go to Ala Azzam for the lovely music we’ve been enjoying, and to Sheikh Khaled Abu Rass for beautiful recitation of the prayer to mark the end of the fast.
Over the past two years Julie and I have had the opportunity to meet with many of you and have also visited some of you in your communities. We want to thank you all for the warm and gracious hospitality you’ve extended to us, and we hope to reciprocate this warmth in a small way to you tonight.
Islam, one of the world’s great religions, has its roots here in the Middle East. But it is also an important part of the fabric of American society, and the Muslim community in the United States is one of extraordinary dynamism and diversity whose culture strengthens our country and enriches our lives. And because of the protections of religious freedom enshrined by our founders in our Constitution, Muslim Americans are able to practice their religion as freely as they do anywhere else in the world. Just as we sit down tonight together to break the fast, Muslim Americans across the U.S. are also sitting down together with family and friends to join in a meal that celebrates and honors the tenets of their faith. In recent years, they have even done it at the White House.
Fasting has a place in many religious traditions. It is common to the Abrahamic family of faiths and to the practice of religion generally. It gives us an opportunity to ask for forgiveness and to seek understanding. It gives us the opportunity to step into the shoes of those less fortunate than us and, drawing inspiration from that experience, to practice acts of charity and goodwill.
And most importantly, it gives us the chance to focus our minds and souls on the things that matter most– not politics, not our jobs, not money – but our faith in God, and our relationships with our family, friends, and community – on living in peace with ourselves and our neighbors so that we can focus on what is truly most important.
I know from my own fasts what a powerful ritual it is. But I only do it twice a year, so I am always filled with awe and respect for Muslims who sustain their faith, focus, and commitment for an entire month, especially when Ramadan falls during the long, hot days of summer.
This year, the holy month of Ramadan coincides with a critical and hopeful juncture in the search for peace in this land. Just last week, Secretary of State Kerry was able to announce that an agreement had been reached on a basis to resume direct negotiations on permanent status between the Palestinian and the Israeli leadership. We commend Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas for their courageous leadership in agreeing to come together once again to negotiate, and to try to finally achieve the goal of two states for two peoples living side by side in peace, security, and cooperation. Tonight’s gathering of Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Druze demonstrates that people of good will from diverse religions and cultures can indeed celebrate and, ultimately, live together in harmony.
We at the American Embassy are committed to achieving the goal of peace and reconciliation, and we work tirelessly to open communication channels between Jews and Arabs and others in Israel and throughout the region—helping us all to better realize and focus on our shared goals and values, rather than our differences. The Embassy is proud to support professional leadership exchanges that bring Israelis and Palestinians to the United States to travel together, meet their American counterparts, and learn from each other. And we support many projects that bring young Israeli Jews, Arabs, and others together to learn important negotiation skills, and to work with one another to address common problems and improve their communities.
The Embassy would not be nearly as effective in any of these programs without our supportive alumni, partners, and friends here tonight. I commend and thank you all for your fantastic work and I look forward to continuing to work with you during the next year.
Thank you for honoring us with your presence this evening. I wish you aRamadan Kareem – Kul Am Wa Antom bi Alf Kheir.