U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green's Remarks at an Interfaith Iftar

For Immediate Release

Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email: press@usaid.gov

Washington, DC
June 12, 2018

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Thank you. And welcome, everyone. Let me begin the evening by wishing you all a Ramadan Kareem. Thank you all for joining us. So, thank you, first and foremost, to Ray and Shaista for once again hosting this beautiful moment -- this interfaith Iftar -- and of course the Chertoffs and Norquists, for co-hosting this.

I'm very much looking forward to this evening. You see, my wife and I, when we served in Tanzania, had the opportunity to co-host and attend a number of Iftars. And they were wonderful occasions, times when we could all come together and celebrate those things that bind us a people and as peoples.

Tonight, what I think makes this event so special is it really speaks to us as Americans. For more than two centuries, this country has been a vast melting pot. We've shared our cultures. We've shared our traditions. And yes, we have shared our food. But we have most definitely shared fellowship and values.

Ramadan is a time when the Muslim world stops to focus on Islamic teachings; teachings regarding not just prayer, but compassion, community, and generosity towards the poor. For those of us who are not Muslim, an Iftar is an opportunity to demonstrate what has been called the truest measure of our commitment to religious liberty: the importance we place on protecting it for those of other faiths.

After all, freedom of worship is what brought the Pilgrims to these shores in the first place. Since her founding, America has been steeped in the Abrahamic traditions. The tenets of three great faiths provide the ethical fabric for our society. They provide a moral foundation, underlying both our Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

And when that foundation is combined with our First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty, it reinforces America's unique commitment to upholding citizen-centered, citizen-responsive governance. It's the reason why my agency, USAID, believes so strongly in partnering with civil society groups and religious leaders, in addition to businesses in the private sector.

The fragility of tolerance and freedom of worship has been made painfully clear to me in my recent travels. In Northern Iraq, ISIS has decimated communities of Christians, and Yazidis, and other minorities. Under the Vice President's leadership, we're working hard to provide relief and support to enable them to return home, and rebuild their lives, and rebuild the ethical fabric of their communities.

More recently, I saw it during my visit to Burma and to Bangladesh. As the world knows, the Rohingya community in Burma has been victimized by a horrible ethnic cleansing campaign. I have to say that the news stories don't capture the despair and the pain that has been inflicted upon these poor people.

I also saw in Northern Rakhine that Muslim villages are continuously monitored by armed guards and people with cameras, constantly watching. And those poor people have no access to mosques or religious services. But you know, even with all of that, there's something else from my journey that I'll always remember. I met with families in three separate villages. In each case, I was moved by their devotion to community: the sacrifices that they made for one another as they celebrated Ramadan under what must be the most trying of all circumstances. The Rohingyas have a resilience and a devotion to their faith that is nothing short of inspirational for all of us.

Enough speech-making for one night. I'll just say that while freedom of worship is not universally protected around the world, we can be proud of how it remains a core element of what it means to be an American. Our tradition of religious pluralism makes us stronger, and yeah, it keeps us free. Tonight, we reaffirm that.

We're all fortunate to be part of this interfaith gathering and to be joined by Rabbi Jack Malone, Father Mark Morozowich, and Imam Mohamed Magid. This is a wonderful occasion. We celebrate what binds us. We celebrate Americanism. And I can't think of anything better or more important than that.

So, thanks again to everyone for coming. Thank you to our hosts for having us. Have a blessed meal, and Salaam -- may peace be on all of you.

Last updated: June 13, 2018

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