Thank you, Colonel Waynick, for that kind introduction.
Ramadan Kareem and good evening, everyone. Welcome to the 16th annual pentagon Iftar dinner. I am pleased to be with you tonight; this is my very first Iftar dinner, and I am happy to be here this evening with so many members and friends of the Muslim community.
Among us are many senior government and military officials and service members and civilians from the Department of Defense. They represent the approximately 4,500 uniformed service members and another 1,000 or so DoD civilians and contractors in just the DC area alone who practice the Muslim faith. Thank you all for being here and for your patriotism and service.
Also among us are honored guests from the diplomatic corps, including ambassadors and military attaches. Thanks for joining us tonight, and for the important job you do representing your countries.
Finally, we have among us Gold Star Mother Ms. Elsheba Khan. Ms. Khan, I ask that you stand and be recognized. Her son, Cpl Kareem Rashad Sultan Kahn, United States Army, gave his life in the service of our country in Iraq on August 6, 2007. Ms. Khan, I extend my profound thanks for you joining us tonight, and I honor the tremendous sacrifice your beloved son—and you—have given to our country.
Finally, please join me in expressing deep gratitude to the Pentagon chaplains office for the role that they have played in putting together this memorable evening.
With the welcomes done, on behalf of Secretary Hagel and the entire Department of Defense, I would like to extend our best wishes as we celebrate the holy month of Ramadan. I am truly honored to be part of this dinner to break today’s fast, and share in one of the great traditions of the Muslim faith.
I don’t have to tell you that Ramadan is a time of prayer and fasting for Muslims—around the world, in this country and in our military—to gather with friends and family, reflect, and focus on their faith.
As President Obama said last week: “Ramadan also reminds us of our shared responsibility to treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves and the basic principles that bind people of different faiths together: a yearning for peace, justice, and equality.”
In addition to recognizing and honoring the Muslim faith, tonight is also an opportunity to celebrate the importance of diversity and equality within the Department of Defense, and the values that make our Department strong – integrity, courage, dedication, and respect.
Indeed, tonight is an opportunity for people of different faiths to come together in the spirit of respect and tolerance, to share the richness of our beliefs, and to enjoy the traditions of hospitality that are such an important part of the Muslim community.
And we should never forget that we all come together tonight not only as people of faith, but also as those who have taken on the mantle of responsibility of service to our nation and our fellow citizens. That service includes defending one of the fundamental principles of our country – the ability of all Americans to freely practice their chosen faith.
Our country’s Founders understood the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of all Americans was to fight for justice and equality as well as liberty and freedom. That is exactly what the men and women both in and out of uniform who serve in the Department of Defense do every day – they are safeguarding the very ideals deemed so precious by our Founding Fathers.
They wrote our Constitution, that guarantees the freedom to practice any religion, and we gather tonight to recognize and celebrate the great gift of religious freedom.
In so doing, we also celebrate the religious diversity of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marine, coast guardsmen and civilians. Our All-Volunteer Force is stronger because of that diversity and because of the culture of inclusion we have instilled within our Department of Defense.
The United States military is the finest in the world – not because of our platforms and technology, but because of our people. They are the heart and soul of the force – a force that is at its best when it reflects the diversity of the nation we so proudly serve.
And as this dinner represents, that includes religious diversity. Our nation and our entire military family are made stronger because of the service and sacrifice of people of all faiths, including the thousands of patriotic Muslim Americans who have served and still serve during this long period of war. They continue a long and noble tradition of generations of Muslim Americans who have defended this country – great Americans like Korean War veteran Air Force Sergeant Ghayth Nur Kashif, who is with us here tonight. Please stand, sir, and be recognized.
On behalf of all Americans, we thank them for their patriotism, for their selfless service, and for their sacrifice. We are able to enjoy the blessings of liberty and religious freedom because of the willingness of Americans of all faiths to put their lives on the line for this country.
So, as we break bread together this Iftar, let us celebrate a great religion with a rich history. Let us also be mindful of all those serving today, and their families. May they be in our prayers, always. Let us give thanks that we live in a country founded on the principles of religious tolerance and mutual respect. And let us also embrace the responsibility that falls upon all of us to protect and cherish those principles—whatever faith we practice.
Once again, Ramadan Kareem, and good night. May the God of your faith look down upon you, and provide you with the greatest of blessings.