In his speech at the University of Cairo on June 4, 2009, President Obama called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslims at home and around the world. As a way to answer the President’s call, Secretary Vilsack hosted USDA’s first-ever Iftar dinner to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Thursday, September 10th, in the Whitten Building patio. More than 200 USDA employees and members of the local community, both Muslim and non-Muslim, were present for this historical event.
Ramadan is holiest month of the year on the Islamic calendar, and runs from August 21 to September 19 this year. During Ramadan, Muslims fast each day from sunrise to sunset, not even drinking water. At sunset, they break their fast with dates (ours were American grown) and water, the act of which is called “iftar.” After evening prayers, Muslims sit down with family and friends for a large late dinner. The White House has been holding annual Iftar dinners since 2002, and other government agencies such as the Department of Defense and USAID host them as well. As a result, Muslim employees at USDA were extremely excited about the prospect of having our very own Iftar here at “the People’s Department.” One FSIS employee and his spouse flew to Washington, D.C. all the way from California at their own expense just to have the chance to attend.
The theme for USDA’s Iftar dinner was “A Common Calling – Feeding Hungry People.” Secretary Vilsack addressed the gathering on USDA’s mission to alleviate hunger at home and around the world, a commitment shared by all major religions. He also spoke eloquently about the legacy of Abraham, who is viewed as the common ancestor of Jews, Christians, and Muslims all over the world. The Secretary also spoke of USDA’s commitment to a modern, inclusive workforce that attracts the best and most effective workers of all backgrounds and faith traditions.
Also addressing the attendees were Mr. Sabir Rahman, Executive Director for Interfaith Dialogue at the Muslim Community Center of Silver Spring; Ms. Amina Makhdoom, Chair of the Montgomery County Committee on Hate and Violence; and Dr. Yaser Haddara, the Board Chair of Islamic Relief USA.
During the meal, guests had a chance to watch President Obama’s Ramadan video message, as well as a video on USDA’s involvement in Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan.
The event was co-sponsored by USDA’s Organization of South Asian Americans in Agriculture and USDA’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It was a wonderful opportunity for the Department to celebrate the wide diversity of backgrounds of those called to serve “every day, in every way” at USDA.