So good evening everyone. Eid Mubarak. And thank you, Farah, for your tireless efforts on behalf of the work that brings you not only to this podium but around the world.
It is a delight to see so many ambassadors from countries that I have visited and know well and to see many familiar faces here again, particularly some of the youth leaders that we honored at our last Iftar dinner. The problem with Ramadan in August is it was impossible, and so we thought, well, it’s September but we’re going forward. And so I thank you for your understanding and your being here once again.
Now, I’m told that there are two members of Congress with us, Representatives Keith Ellison and Sheila Jackson Lee, and I send a special word of welcome to them.
As Farah said, you can see through the lobby and the Diplomatic Reception Rooms some of our history of presidents affirming America’s respect for Muslims and Islam dating back to Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. And we celebrate that history, and particularly today we wanted to celebrate sports and athletic competition. Whether it be the Olympics or the World Cup, the human drive to run faster and climb higher is universal, and universally celebrated. And it’s also a way by which talent rises to the top, ability is what matters, and people are treated equally.
And that’s part of the reason the State Department sponsors sports exchange programs and sends sports ambassadors around the world. And for all the athletes joining us this evening, you may never have thought of yourself exactly as a role model, but you are. And you are not only to the students that some of you visited earlier today, but to so many beyond. And all Americans take pride in your achievements.
Now, we have some household names as well as some who will be household names. World champion boxer Amir Khan flew all the way from London to be part of this celebration. Where is Mr. Khan? Thank you so much for coming. (Applause.)
We also have a number of women athletes who are here. When Ibtihaj Muhammad fences in her hijab, when she trains 30 hours each week without missing a prayer, she’s thinking about winning and she’s thinking about the London Olympics next year. Where is Ms. Muhammad? Where is she? Right there. (Applause.) But I think it’s fair to say that, as her mother has said, many people feel pride and recognize that she is representing more than just herself in her endeavors.
Now, not everybody will go to the Olympics, but even weekend warriors can get some satisfaction out of this. And I hope many of you were able to watch the new documentary we screened earlier. And we are joined by the coach and four members of the Fordson Tractors from Dearborn, Michigan, as well as the filmmakers. Where are all of them? That was such a great documentary and a great story. (Applause.)
And I hope everybody gets a chance to meet our athletes here tonight, but that film highlighted the exceptional circumstances that the team faced, that they wanted to train hard and stay healthy while keeping the requirements of Ramadan. And so like every other high school team, they geared up for football practice in August this year with two-a-day practices, except they took the field at 11:00 p.m. and finished around 4:00. And that takes special dedication, special dedication to both your sport and your faith.
But what stood out to me is how familiar the team and the players ultimately are. The image of the pregame huddle and prayer could’ve been filmed at any high school in America. Shoulder pads and helmets crowded the locker room, and big-game nerves were somewhat evident on your faces, I have to confess. But despite the extra burdens they carried, at the end of it, it was Friday night football for a team of champions.
Now, we can’t pretend that there have not been difficulties and division. In fact, the Fordson documentary tells the story of the religious tensions in Dearborn, Michigan. But the power of America has always been anchored in our ability to come together and move forward as one nation.
This weekend, we will mark the 10th anniversary of September 11th. And we all lost something that day. In the ashes and the aftermaths, we knew that we had lost Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, men, women, young, old. And a decade later, that unity that we felt must continue to inspire and guide us.
I’m very proud that in our country, despite the challenges, we do honor the freedom of religion. Too many countries in the world today do not, or they make it difficult and even dangerous for people to try to exercise their religion. So as difficult as it may be, the fact that we get up every day and keep trying is a real tribute to all of us. So at this time of celebration and reflection, and as we mark the end of Ramadan and the beginning of a new year of renewal and possibility, I hope we can recommit ourselves to the common cause of spreading peace, prosperity, understanding to all the people of the earth.
Now I wanted to introduce two of our athletes so that you could hear from them directly. Ephraim Salaam has played in the NFL for over a decade, but some of you may know him best for his memorable Super Bowl commercial last year. (Laughter.) And Kulsoom Abdullah is a weightlifter, forging the way for Muslim women athletes to maintain their freedom of expression and still compete at the highest level. Please join me in welcoming first Ephraim and then Kulsoom.