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American Forces Press Service

All Faiths Contribute to U.S. Strength, Panetta Says

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2012 – The United States and its military are stronger today because of the service and sacrifice of people of all faiths, including Muslim Americans, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here last night.

Speaking at the 13th annual Pentagon iftar dinner as part of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Panetta greeted the attendees and said he welcomed the chance to sit with them and for an evening to share their faith.

The more than 120 Muslims and their guests and families at the dinner included Defense Department officials and service members, foreign military officers, diplomats and members of Congress.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and one of the pillars of Islam. During the month, from dawn until sunset, Muslims traditionally refrain from eating, drinking and other activities, breaking the fast each evening with family and friends at a dinner called an iftar.

At the Pentagon iftar, the menu included mixed kabob, butter chicken and goat korma; chana masala and saag paneer; basmati terka rice, nah bread and salad; and kheer, or rice pudding, for dessert.

The secretary sat at the head table with U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota; U.S. Rep. André Carson of Indiana; Ebrahim Rasool, South Africa’s ambassador to the United States; Houda Nonoo, Bahrain’s ambassador to the United States; and Asif Chaudhry, foreign policy advisor at the Pentagon to the chief of naval operations.

Also on the guest list were military officers from Iraq, Bangladesh, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey and Bahrain.

Talib Shareef, resident imam at Washington’s Masjid Muhammed, the nation's first mosque built by American citizens, recited parts of the Kuran. Shareef is a retired Air Force master sergeant with 30 years of active service.

“We are grateful to be able to host this iftar dinner at the Pentagon and to share in one of the great traditions of the Muslim faith,” Panetta said in his remarks. “We’re also able to affirm one of the fundamental principles of our country: our ability to freely practice our chosen faith and to be able to worship our god wherever we are.”

Panetta joined Rasool and other speakers in welcoming guests and honoring the celebration. They included the master of ceremonies Army Maj. Jalal Malik, an international affairs officer with the National Guard, and Army Chaplain (Col.) Thomas Waynick, Pentagon chaplain.

“The month of Ramadan emphasizes focusing one’s heart away from worldly activities, the cleansing of one’s soul to free it from harmful impurities,” Waynick said, “and the practices of self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice and empathy, especially for those less fortunate, thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity.”

These themes are common among the religions of the world, he added.

“It is my prayer this evening as Pentagon chaplain,” Waynick said, “that you would be strengthened in your resolve to serve both God and others as we seek the common good to respect the dignity and the fair treatment of all people across all nations and the world.”

Panetta said Ramadan is a time for Muslims around the world, in the United States, and in the U.S. military services to reflect, gather with friends and family and focus on their faith.

“Our constitution guarantees [freedom and tolerance], and people from across the world have come here to embrace … their faith and embrace their diversity,” the secretary said.

People of all faiths, including Muslim Americans, contribute to the strength of the United States and its armed forces, Panetta said.

“The 9/11 attacks took the lives of innocent Muslims and people of all religions,” he noted. “And during the decade of war that has followed those attacks, I am grateful that Muslim Americans have been fighting for America on the front lines. They have sacrificed a great deal for our country, and on behalf of all Americans let me thank them and all of our troops for their service and for their sacrifice.”

Everyone in the United States enjoys the blessings of liberty because of those who put their lives on the line for the nation, he said.

“So as we take part in this iftar, let us celebrate a great religion,” the secretary said. “Let us also be mindful of those who serve in our military and their families, and let us give thanks for living 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 yes died for those freedoms,” he added. “Let us give thanks for all those who have come to this country, passing by the Statue of Liberty, in order to enjoy those freedoms.”

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