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An evening of faiths at the State Department

July 30, 2013

By Annette Birch

Published in The Capital Post, http://thecapitalpost.com/evening-faiths-state-department-p-24528.html

The crystal chandeliers illuminated the Benjamin Franklin room at the State Department as the light outside began to set. The room quickly began to fill with people who came together for a celebratory dinner on July 25 at the State Department, breaking the fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan.  Red and orange roses decorated the white tablecloths and waiters in black and white had filled glasses with red pomegranate juice and water. Behind a red line, video cameras were lined up for the event. The room fell silent as Farah Pandith, the first ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities for the State Department, welcomed everyone, emphasizing the importance of reaching out across nations.

“We must explore what is possible and engaging with Muslims on a people to people level,” she said. She introduced their host and initiator of the dinner, Secretary of State John Kerry whom she had met on what she pronounced to be “the last day of normal” – September 10, 2001.

Kerry took the podium welcoming everyone with the traditional Arabic greeting “Assalamu Alaikum.” His audience greeted him back with “Salekum Alaam.”

“Every single one of you were invited here because you are doers. You are all involved in trying to make the world a better place,” he said.

It is the first time since his confirmation as Secretary of State that Kerry has hosted an Iftar, a celebratory dinner traditionally held at the White House.  The purpose of the event is to celebrate people and reinforce programs that build bridges of understanding and partnership. In his speech, Kerry welcomed this time for compassion, peace, and celebration of faiths that reaches back to the days of the beginning of the republic and constitutes a core American value.

“America did not always get it right. But no place has ever welcomed so many different communities and worships,” he said to the clicking of knives and forks as the guests began to eat.  The great faiths in America could force a common effort for human dignity and create a partnership with common goals, which should be founded on peace, prosperity and cooperation between peoples.

“I just returned from the Middle East where the need has never been greater,” he said and continued with the examples of Libya and Tunisia, where young people seek new ways for improving their situation, underlining the need to include everyone in the process of change.

“We need to reach beyond government to include civil society and people of all kinds,” he said

The next step in the process is already under way. Kerry announced that he is in the process of establishing a first faith office in the State Department that would reach out “across continents and oceans” to people of all faiths.

Kerry ended the speech by going back to his days as governor of Massachusetts, where an Islamic Center was made a reality due to the cooperation of a Rabbi, a Greek Orthodox, and the Iman and urged everyone to follow their example.

“That is what our shared humanity asks of us. Let us treat each other with respect,” he said and stepped down to shake hands with several guests. The room quickly filled with a renewed clicking of forks and knives accompanied by the voices of people of different faiths.

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