MPAC Board Chair Reflects on Attending White House Iftar

August 16, 2012

Dear friends and supporters,

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the annual iftar hosted by the White House. I was invited in my capacity as the the current board chairman of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which I have worked with for more than a decade. So other than 10 hours in a plane there and back to eat chicken in the White House, what was the significance of this event?

The special event included about 100 guests, including a members of Congress, diplomats, and a diverse array of American Muslims. Before this audience, President Barack Obama spoke about the indisputable American value of religious freedom and also recognized the role Muslim women have played in the Arab Spring and in the U.S. (click here to watch his speech or read a transcript).  He singled out several American Muslim women in the audience for their exemplary leadership, including Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’s Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, who recently was attacked by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). He concluded by condemning violence against any religious group,  and remarked on the Sikh temple shootings in Wisconsin.  

At the end of the night, I asked myself: What should we make of this?  Was this iftar simply a social gathering?  Was it a statement of American Muslims’ political importance?  Or was it something else entirely?  

Since taking office, President Obama has not visited a U.S. mosque nor addressed an American Muslim audience. On the other hand, he has emptied Guantanamo Bay of most of its prisoners, he has removed the army from Iraq and he is winding down the war in Afghanistan.  He has maneuvered the Arab Spring well, allowing Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to fall as a result of the struggles of their own people, and he helped bring international forces to Libya when it was most needed. In fact, Obama’s approval rating among American Muslims is more than 70 percent, the highest of any demographic other than African Americans.

To me and to MPAC, President Obama’s continued dedication to holding the annual White House iftar, despite the absurd political attacks he continues to face for engaging American Muslims, is reassuring in a time of great uncertainty.

While American Muslims do not have much political power, in terms of donating large amounts of money to candidates or in terms of votes, the first step forward is to have our presence recognized and accepted as valuable.  

The White House’s annual iftar sends a message to all Americans that American Muslims are a real and important part of our country, and that we have just as much right to participate in the government and in policy-making as anyone.

This message is needed now more than ever. With a frightening escalation of attacks against houses of worship around the country, our communities are feeling particularly vulnerable. MPAC’s engagement with the White House and federal agencies on behalf of you and all American Muslims is critical in our journey as a community.

Dr. Nayyer Ali
Chairperson of the Board
Muslim Public Affairs Council 



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