Ahead of tenth anniversary of 9/11, President speaks of service and sacrifice during "difficult decade"...
President Obama on Wednesday night marked the holy month of Ramadan as he hosted the third Iftar dinner of his Administration in the State Dining Room, beginning shortly after 8:40 PM in accordance with the Islamic requirement of fasting until sunset. The President, clad in a dark suit and standing beneath the famous painting of President Abraham Lincoln that hangs above the fireplace in the State Dining Room, honored the service and sacrifice of Muslim Americans during seven minutes of remarks. He looked ahead to next month's tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, when he will observe the aftermath of what he called "a difficult decade" with ceremonies at Ground Zero, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon. Special guests for the dinner for about 100 guests were family members of Muslim 9/11 victims and first responders, as well as family members of troops who were casualties in the wars that followed.
The anniversary of 9/11 will be a time to pay tribute to Muslims as well as Americans of all faiths, the President said.
"It will be a time to honor all those that we’ve lost, the families who carry on their legacy, the heroes who rushed to help that day and all who have served to keep us safe during a difficult decade," President Obama said. "And tonight, it’s worth remembering that these Americans were of many faiths and backgrounds, including proud and patriotic Muslim Americans."
Guest also included the two Muslim Members of Congress: Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-MINN) and Rep. Andre Carson (IND), as well as members of the Diplomatic Corps, including 13 Arab Ambassadors from Saudia Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, UAE, Yemen and the PLO representative, among other nations. Other guests were religious and community leaders, and senior White House officials. There were two pro sports players: Hamza Abdullah of the Arizona Cardinals and Husain Abdullah of the Minnesota Vikings.
"Muslim Americans have long contributed to the strength and character of our country, in all walks of life. This has been especially true over the past 10 years," President Obama said.
Muslims, President Obama said, were passengers on the planes that struck the Twin Towers, and working in the buildings as well as at the Pentagon.
"They were...Americans by birth and Americans by choice, immigrants who crossed the oceans to give their children a better life," President Obama said. “They were cooks and waiters, but also analysts and executives."
President Obama hailed the Muslim Americans who joined the Armed Forces after the terror attacks as crucial members of the “9/11 generation,” and also praised those who serve on the homefront as firefighters and police.
“Make no mistake, Muslim Americans help to keep us safe,” President Obama said.
"This generation has earned its place in history," he added, and asked family members to stand and be recognized.
Some of the guests wept during the President's remarks,
including Mansura Shajahan, who wiped away tears as she and her son Yusuf Shajahan were acknowledged by the President as among the 9/11 families; her husband Mohammed Shajahan died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
"This year and every year, we must ask ourselves: How do we honor these patriots -- those who died and those who served?" President Obama said. "We must be the America they lived for and the America they died for, the America they sacrificed for."
President Obama also spoke about 9/11 at the 2010 Iftar Dinner, weighing in on whether or not a Mosque should be built at Ground Zero, but this year's remarks were far less controversial.
Guests from his Administration included Huma Abedin, Special Assistant to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the wife of former Democrat Representative from New York, Anthony Weiner; Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan; Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Special Advisor Samantha Power, and Press Secretary Jay Carney. First Lady Michelle Obama did not attend the dinner; she is away on vacation in Oregon. (Abedin, above, speaks with a guest)
The White House did not release the menu for the important dinner. Floral centerpieces were made of orange and yellow roses in low gold china baskets adorned the tables, which were covered in cloths of the same color scheme. Gold candles adorned the tables. Before dinner, guests were offered fruit juices and dried dates, the traditional fastbreaking foods for Ramadan. The President's only light moment during his remarks came at the start of his speech.
"This year, Ramadan is entirely in August. That means the days are long, the weather is hot, and you are hungry," the President said, to laughter. "So I will be brief."
Hosting Iftar dinners at the White House is a tradition that began with President Bill Clinton, and it was continued annually by President George W. Bush, who hosted eight during his administration.
*The transcript of the President's remarks is here.
*White House video; AP photos