Obama tells Americans to start listening to Muslims

Published June 24, 2015
US President Barack Obama greets Samantha Elauf  during an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington. —AFP
US President Barack Obama greets Samantha Elauf during an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington. —AFP
US President Barack Obama talks to guests during an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington. —AFP
US President Barack Obama talks to guests during an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington. —AFP

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama has urged anti-Islam demonstrators in the United States to “stop yelling and start listening”, telling them that they would find Muslims peaceful and welcoming if they reached out to them.

He read out a message of peace at an iftar-dinner he hosted at the White House on Monday, noting that more than 1.5 billion people around the world observed Ramazan as “a time of spiritual renewal and a reminder of one’s duty to our fellow man”.

He recalled that when three young Muslim Americans were brutally murdered in Chapel Hill, South Carolina, earlier this year, Americans of all faiths rallied around that community.

He noted that in the same state last week a white supremacist murdered nine African Americans at a church in Charleston.

“As Americans, we insist that nobody should be targeted because of who they are, or what they look like, who they love, how they worship. We stand united against these hateful acts.”

He noted that many people in America did not personally know Muslims and formed their opinion on second hand knowledge. “They mostly hear about Muslims in the news — and that can obviously lead to a very distorted impression,” he said.

Mr Obama recalled that recently a group of Americans gathered outside a mosque in Arizona with offensive signs against Islam and Muslims but when the mosque’s leaders invited them inside to share in the evening prayer, their opinion changed.

“One demonstrator, who accepted the invitation later, described … how he finally saw the Muslim American community for what it is — peaceful and welcoming,” he said. “That’s what can happen when we stop yelling and start listening.”

Mr Obama said the Holy Quran teaches people to “tread gently on the earth and, when confronted by ignorance, reply ‘peace’. We affirm that whatever our faith, we are one family.”

President Obama said the White House iftar was also a reminder of the freedoms that bound Americans together, “including the freedom of religion — that inviolable right to practise our faiths freely”.

The iftar-dinner continues a tradition started by president Bill Clinton and continued by president George W. Bush.
There were about 150 guests, including some Muslim members of Congress. Since June 21 is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere the White House meal was served promptly.

The menu included vegetable salad with rosemary pita chips, lemon lamb, crushed peanut potatoes, French beans, chocolate flourless cake, cherry compote, and iced tea and yogurt sorbet.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2015

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