Dates, the desert fruit that traditionally break Muslims' day-long fast during Ramadan, were at the top of the White House menu last night as President Obama hosted a dinner honoring Islam's American believers during their faith's holiest month. (There was also organic chicken, potato and leek puree and late summer peas, followed by sorbet and cookies. "I am sure it will be good," Obama assured his guests before diving in.)
Obama is shown here welcoming Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, a University of Memphis student who, the president noted in his remarks "broke Rebecca Lobo's record for the most points scored by any high school basketball player in Massachusetts history." You can read more about Bilquis' sports feats on USA TODAY's high school sports blog.
Other guests whom Obama singled out included Nashala Hearn, who won a lawsuit against her Oklahoma school district for the right to wear a hijab, Muslim women's traditional head covering, and Elsheba Khan, whose son, Kareem, joined the military out of high school and was killed in Iraq.
"The contributions of Muslims to the United States are too long to catalog because Muslims are so interwoven into the fabric of our communities and our country," Obama said. "American Muslims are successful in business and entertainment; in the arts and athletics; in science and in medicine. Above all, they are successful parents, good neighbors, and active citizens."
Guests at the dinner included the U.S. Congress' first two Muslim members: Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Andre Carson, D-Ind., ambassadors of a number of Muslim nations and many top-ranking U.S. government officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Indiana's Sen. Richard Lugar, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Also among the invitees were members of the president's ecumenical Council on Faith-Based and Community Partnerships: Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism; Eboo Patel of the Interfaith Youth Core out of the president's hometown of Chicago; and Joel Hunter, the pastor of an evangelical mega-congregation in central Florida.
Obama also acknowledged an absent invitee, the boxing Olympian who is perhaps the nation's most famous convert to Islam. Here's what the president said:
While Muhammad Ali could not join us tonight, it is worth reflecting upon his remarkable contributions, as he's grown from an unmatched fighter in the ring to a man of quiet dignity and grace who continues to fight for what he believes -- and that includes the notion that people of all faiths holds things in common. I love this quote. A few years ago, he explained this view -- and this is part of why he's The Greatest -- saying, "Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams -- they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do -- they all contain truths."