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Remarks at the Annual State Department Iftaar Dinner

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
September 8, 2008

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(8:00 p.m. EDT)

SECRETARY RICE: Good evening, and Ramadan Kareem. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining me tonight to observe Ramadan. I’m really honored to welcome the distinguished members of the diplomatic community who are joining us, members of Congress, representatives of our civil society and our religious and academic communities.

I also want to extend a special welcome to the poets and musicians and writers and other artists who are with us tonight. Your work enriches our lives and deepens our understanding of Islam’s rich culture.

In recent years, I have had the privilege of hosting several Iftaar dinners here at the State Department and of attending several more at the White House, and this time several abroad. in fact, several in one day. (Laughter.) This is my last time to host you as Secretary of State. And I’m very glad that you did not think that that was an applause line. (Laughter.)

These Iftaar celebrations over the past several years have given me an opportunity to speak with my many Muslim men and women friends and colleagues, and to gain a deeper understanding of this holy month. More than one billion people find comfort and hope in Islam, and Ramadan inspires them to renew their faith through sacrifice and prayer, reflection and charity. People of all faiths can appreciate Ramadan’s spirit, one of love for family, devotion to community, and gratitude toward God.

That spirit has no better representative than Imam Hendi. Thank you for that beautiful invocation and for your efforts to promote peace and unity among different faiths and different peoples. The message of understanding and tolerance and pluralism describes the better future that we all hope to build.

Across America, Muslim families are coming together each night of Ramadan to celebrate their devotion to Islam. The many faiths and traditions to which Americans belong enrich our nation and reflect what is best about America. To be American is to adopt our country’s creed that all men and women are created equal, that as equals we enjoy certain universal and inalienable rights, and that among these are the right to live without oppression, to worship without persecution, and to think and speak and assemble without retribution.

For hundreds of years, people of all faiths and people of no faith at all have come to the United States to live by these principles, and we have welcomed them. We welcome them still. Every individual who embraces the rights and responsibilities of citizenship makes America more American.

Our belief in the universal liberties of every human being is also what leads our country into the world, not to impose our will or our ways on others, certainly not because we believe ourselves to be perfect. We are anything but perfect. But those imperfections lead us to believe that in the pursuit of a more democratic future, we are doing the work that humanity deserves and desires.

Ladies and gentlemen, our celebration tonight honors artists whose lives and work teaches the value of liberty, the good that comes from individuals having the freedom to express the ideas and values and influences that matter the most. The poetry that is written, the music that is composed, the history that is unearthed, the buildings that are designed – all of this generously shares Islam with the American people. It reminds us of Islam’s culture and scientific contributions to our lives, and it challenges us both as individuals and society to be better, to be more humble and to be more charitable, to think less about ourselves and to think more about others. Your work helps us to show that freedom of expression unleashes the power of art and literature and scholarship at the same time that it holds leaders accountable and makes governments more responsive and ultimately makes lives better.

So on behalf of the men and women of the State Department and the men and women of the United States Government worldwide, thank you for honoring us with your presence tonight. You all the bearers of a great faith, a religion of peace and love. And your work ensures that an already rich civilization continues to grow richer.

Thank you again. And again, Ramadam Kareem. (Applause.)

Released on September 9, 2008

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