Speaking Thursday at the White House reception celebrating — belatedly — the end of Ramadan, President Obama made a point of highlighting the contributions Muslims have made to American society.
After praising Muslims' contributions to the U.S. and describing the discrimination many now face in the wake of recent terrorist attacks, Obama told his guests, "And I especially want to speak to the young people who are here, to make sure that you know that we see you, that we believe in you."
More than 100 Muslim American dignitaries and guests from overseas gathered in the East Room to mark Eid al-Fitr, the end of a month of fasting and prayer for Muslims around the globe.
Obama did not allude directly to election-year proposals he has criticized in the past, such as a ban on Muslims entering the United States or restrictions on individuals coming from countries with a history of terrorism. But he declared “Muslim Americans have enriched our lives every single day” in spheres ranging from health care to social justice and the military.
“Muslim Americans help keep us safe. You’re our firefighters, our police officers — like Deputy Police Chief Malik Aziz of the Dallas Police Department, who’s helping that community that is still grieving heal after the tragic attack against law enforcement in that city,” Obama said.
“So let’s be clear: Muslim Americans are as patriotic, as integrated, as American as any other members of the American family,” he said, prompting applause. “And whether your family has been here for generations or you’re a new arrival, you’re an essential part of the fabric of our country.”
A 15-year-old from Beaverton, Ore., Aisha Osman, introduced the president. Osman wrote to the president in May about other children calling her a terrorist and hurling racial slurs. “There were moments in my life where I would want to just take off my hijab and leave my identity behind so I can fit in with my peers,” she wrote.
At the event, Osman said that while she has experienced discrimination, "I know with President Obama, I don't have to apologize for who I am.''
Obama called the letter “heartbreaking.”
"That’s a young American, full of promise, full of possibility, fearful because of her faith,” he said. “And we’ve seen a spike in Muslim Americans, including children, being attacked, mosques being targeted, especially during the final, holiest days of Ramadan. And that shouldn’t be happening in the United States of America.”
“So on days like this, and on every day, we need to be clear about what we stand for,” Obama said. “Muslim Americans — and all Americans — have to reject hatred. Muslim Americans — and all Americans — have to reject discrimination. Muslim Americans — and all Americans — have to answer those who would peddle hate, or suggest that somehow their interpretations of their faith justify violence.”
On a more lighthearted note, Obama said that Eid fell on July 6 this year, but the White House was observing it late anyway.
"I know we are a little late this year," he said, as the crowd laughed. "The advantage is that you’re not as hungry as you were a couple of weeks ago. But our celebration is just as festive, the food is just as good."