Remarks by Former U.S. Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro at Iftar Dinner

Honored guests: Good Evening, Massa El Khair and Erev Tov!  My wife, Julie, and I are delighted to have you with us tonight to share this Iftar meal during the blessed month of Ramadan.  This is our second Iftar since our arrival last summer, and I am pleased to see many familiar faces tonight.  

Over the past year I have had the opportunity to meet with many of you and have also visited some of you in your communities.  I want to thank you all for the warm and gracious hospitality you’ve extended to me, and hope to reciprocate this warmth in a small way to you tonight.

Islam is a significant 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.  America’s large Muslim community makes important contributions to our country’s diversity and benefits from the tradition of tolerance and freedom established by our founders.

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.  This year, Ramadan also holds special meaning for those citizens in the Middle East and North Africa who are courageously achieving democracy and self-determination, and for those who are still struggling to achieve their universal rights.

I’m very proud that the United States honors and stands firmly for the freedom of religion, that we view it as a fundamental human right, and that we support those who advocate for free religious expression.  We work to protect the rights of all people to follow their conscience, free from persecution and discrimination, not only because it is a universal human right, but also because we know that religious freedom enriches our lives, and is critical to growing and maintaining peaceful, inclusive, and vibrant democracies.

As President Obama has noted, “faith should bring us together.”  That’s why the United States welcomes international efforts and encourages people of different faiths to come together in dialogue and in service.  When we do this, we lay a foundation for not only good relations, but also for good works to happen.  Together we have the responsibility to foster dialogue and engagement grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect.

Here, in this land, we are at a critical juncture in the search for peace.  We hope that the ongoing efforts will help facilitate a commitment on the part of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to achieve the goal of two states living side by side in peace, security, and cooperation.  Tonight’s gathering of Jews, Arab Muslims, 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 facilitate efforts 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 projects that bring professional Israelis and Palestinians to the United States to travel together, learn from their American counterparts, and learn from each other.  We support projects that work with minority communities to help them integrate into society though educational and economic empowerment programs.

And of course, 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.

As the Nobel Prize winner and Arab Novelist Naguib Mahfouz said:  “Good is achieving victory every day.  It may be that Evil is weaker than we imagine.”  In this spirit of dedication to improvement, and in keeping with Mahfouz’s optimism that each of us has the ability to make the world a better place, I invite you to celebrate this Iftar meal by reflecting on the hopes for renewal and possibility that are common to us all, and to recommit ourselves to the shared cause of spreading peace, prosperity, and understanding of all people.

Thank you for honoring us with your presence this evening.  We wish you Ramadan Mubarak.  Kul Am Wa Antom bi Alf Kheir.