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Remarks at Pentagon Ramadan Iftar Observance

What a spectacular looking group, and particularly for the kids. Thank you for your patience. I’ll be brief, but it’s important and I hope that you’ll remember some of it. Lieutenant Colonel Farooq, thank you for that kind introduction. I want to thank Secretary Fanning, Eric, thanks for being here also, and welcome all of our international friends who are joining us. To our Turkish allies who are with us today this evening, my thoughts and prayers are with you, and with the families and friends of those affected by the attack in Istanbul this week. It was an attack on us all, and I want to assure you that the people of the United States stand with the extraordinary people of Turkey at this difficult time.  

I also want to thank Imam Zia Makhdoom , Imam thank you, for honoring us with your presence, thank you. Finally I want to thank Chaplain Kenneth Williams and his staff for helping to make this wonderful event a reality, as they have for so many other gatherings of faith at the Pentagon through the year, from Good Friday, to Purim, to Diwali, to Vaisakhi and every week at the Pentagon prayer breakfast, thank you. The Department of Defense is one family of many faiths, and this is a family gathering. So thank you for welcoming me and my wife Stephanie, and Ramadan Kareem to all of the Muslim servicemembers and civilians within our department.

This Ramadan includes the longest days of the year, so I’m going to be brief so you can break your fast soon. But I want to note that this Ramadan also includes the 4th of July, the day our nation was born of the self-evident truths that we’re all created equal, endowed with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All of us.

Right now, right now as we’re here this evening, there are thousands of Muslim-American Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen serving and defending those ideals in every time zone, in the air, ashore, and afloat. They stand in a long line of patriots who have stepped forward throughout our history to pursue the noblest of callings, which is to protect our people, uphold humankind’s highest values, and make a better world for our children.

They, and their remarkable military families, serve in the footsteps of the extraordinary Muslim-American veterans with us today, like Sheikh Nazeem Abdul Karriem, who fought on the beaches of Normandy. Sir, thank you again for being here. And Imam Ghayth Kashif, who fought in the Korean War and continues to find ways to serve today. Thank you. Gentlemen, thank you for your service, and thank you for being with us today.

Those who serve today also follow the legacy of our fallen heroes, brave Muslim-Americans like Specialist Kareem Rashad Khan, who died serving our nation in Baqouba, Iraq. To his mother Elsheba, I thank you for honoring us with your presence. We know we lack the words to do justice to what you feel as we remember your remarkable son. We can never fully know.

But we do know what your sacrifice means to us, to this nation, and to a world that still depends so much on American men and women in uniform for its security. And we are profoundly grateful.

It has been said that security is like oxygen: if you have it, you don’t think about it. But if you don’t have it that’s all you can think of. The Muslim-Americans who now serve our nation in uniform, as well as the many more who support their mission in a civilian capacity, play a critical role in providing that oxygen to the world, alongside their fellow servicemembers and colleagues of every faith and every background.

When I became Secretary of Defense, I made a commitment to building America’s force of the future – the all-volunteer military that will defend our nation for generations to come and that will be in the future as it is today the finest fighting force the world has ever known. And like our outstanding force of today, our force of the future must continue to benefit from the best people America has to offer. In the 21st century, that requires drawing strength from the broadest pool of possible talent.

That’s why we’ve opened all combat positions to women who can meet our standards. And it’s why we must continue to find ways of recruiting, training and retaining the finest Americans from every community and every background in this country. To succeed in our mission of national defense, we cannot afford to cut ourselves off from any part of the country that has talent and skills.

And drawing from all of our strengths increases the experience and perspective of the force. For some of your fellow servicemembers or colleagues, you may have been the first Muslim they’ve gotten to know well. And so you’ve already given them a perspective they never had before, just as they’ve probably expanded your perspective as well.

That expanded perspective is critical to our mission of national defense, because it allows our men and women to thrive in uncertain situations, to understand and respect differences, and to work with others to solve seemingly intractable problems, to create new partnerships, and to build new coalitions. It spurs innovation, and builds bridges.

When I visit with foreign leaders I often hear how much they like to work with our men and women in uniform, not only because they’re very capable, but because they conduct themselves decently, they’re trustworthy, and they live our values —including respecting differences, and finding strength in them. Those are values that many nations around the world find to be honorable, decent, and attractive to themselves.

Many of you know what that means firsthand, whether you’ve helped harden our networks in the cyber domain as some of you have, or conducted exercises with our allies in the waters of the Asia Pacific, or responded to a disaster in some far off corner of the globe, your individual actions are a clear reflection of our values and our leadership. “Strength in Faith, and Character in Service” are not just themes for tonight’s celebration, they are part of the foundation that enables everything we do around the world.

This is particularly important as we work to counter the insidious influence of organizations that seek to subvert the meaning of Islam to inspire violence and destruction. The men and women here tonight, and those observing Ramadan on every ship and every base around the world, are the most powerful argument against the twisted ideology of ISIL, Al Qaeda and any other terrorist organizations of any origin that seek to hijack faith in order to promote their brand of evil.

We all stand firm in the service of our nation to defend the very freedoms that bind us together as Americans – not only the freedom of religion – but liberty and justice for all. And it is through our resolve and enduring commitment to global peace and security that we will, we will, we’re sure to overcome any threats to our way of life, and the corrupt ideologies that may underpin them.

Our annual Pentagon Iftar recognizes the true spirit of Ramadan, a time when Muslims recommit themselves to their faith, following days of sacrifice, discipline and patience with nights of gratitude. It is a time of renewal, a reminder of one’s duty to serve one another, and to lift up the less fortunate. So, I am honored to spend my evening with you to honor the values we share: peace, charity, and forgiveness. And I am profoundly grateful to you and your families for your service and sacrifice here at home and around the world – that’s each and every one of you, including each and every one of the kids here.

So as we break the fast, let us give thanks for the opportunity to defend and live in a country founded on the principles of freedom of religion, tolerance, and mutual respect. Let us give thanks to those who have fought and died for those freedoms. And let us give thanks to God for the blessings that we share. May God bless all of you, may God bless all of our troops, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.