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Carter Salutes Muslim-American Service, Sacrifice at Iftar Dinner

WASHINGTON, July 01, 2016 — This year, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan includes July 4, the day America was born out of the self-evident truths that all are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last night.

Speaking at the Pentagon’s 18th annual Iftar dinner, Carter began with a message to Turkish members of the audience and to the leaders and people of the longtime U.S. ally, Turkey.

“The attack in Istanbul this week was an attack on us all,” the secretary said, “and I want to assure you that the people of the United States stand with the extraordinary people of Turkey at this difficult time.”

In his remarks, Carter said that thousands of Muslim-American soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen serve and defend the ideals of U.S. independence in every time zone, in the air, ashore and afloat.

“They stand in a long line of patriots who have stepped forward throughout our history to pursue that noblest of callings, which is to protect our people, uphold humankind’s highest values, and make a better world for our children,” the secretary added.

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.

Muslim-American Heroes

Joining Carter and an international audience at the iftar were Army Secretary Eric Fanning, Imam Zia Makhdoom of Alexandria, Virginia, and Pentagon Chaplain Army Col. Kenneth Williams.

Carter said Muslim-American service members and their families serve in the footsteps of extraordinary Muslim American veterans in the audience, including Sheikh Nazeem Abdul Karriem, who fought on Normandy beaches during D-Day, and Imam Ghayth Kashif, who fought in the Korean War and still finds ways to serve today.

“Those who serve today also follow the legacy of our fallen heroes, brave Muslim Americans like [Army] Specialist Kareem Rashad Khan, who died serving our nation in Baqouba, Iraq. To his mother Elsheba, I want thank you for honoring us with your presence,” Carter said.

“The Muslim Americans who now serve our nation in uniform -- as well as the many more who support the mission in a civilian capacity -- play a critical role … alongside their fellow service members and colleagues of every faith and background,” the secretary added.

Force of the Future

Carter said his commitment to building America’s force of the future means that the all-volunteer military that will defend the nation for generations must continue to benefit from the best people America has to offer.

“In the 21st century, that requires drawing strength from the broadest pool of possible talent,” he said. “That’s why … we must continue to find ways of recruiting, training and retaining the finest Americans from every community and background in this country.”

The secretary added, “For some of your fellow service members or colleagues, you may have been the first Muslim they’ve gotten to know well, so you’ve already given them a perspective they never had before, just as they’ve probably expanded your perspective.”

Such an expanded perspective allows service men and women to thrive in uncertain situations, understand and respect differences, and work with others to solve seemingly intractable problems, create new partnerships and build new coalitions. It spurs innovation and builds bridges, he said.

Shared Values

As the nation works to counter the influence of organizations that seek to subvert the meaning of Islam to inspire violence and destruction, Carter said, “the men and women here tonight -- and those observing Ramadan on every ship and every base around the world -- are the most powerful argument against the twisted ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations that seek to hijack faith in order to promote their brand of evil.”

Strength, faith and character in service are not just themes for the night's celebration, the secretary added.

“They are part of the foundation that enables everything we do around the world. This is particularly important as we work to counter the insidious influence of organizations that seek to subvert the meaning of Islam to inspire violence and destruction,” he said.

The Pentagon’s annual Iftar dinner recognizes the true spirit of Ramadan, Carter said, calling it a time when Muslims recommit themselves to their faith, following days of sacrifice, discipline and patience with nights of gratitude. It is a time of renewal and a reminder of the duty to serve each other and lift up the less fortunate.

“I am honored to spend my evening with you to honor the values we share: peace, charity and forgiveness,” the secretary said, “and I am profoundly grateful to you and your families for your service and sacrifice here at home and around the world.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)
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