Last week we were honored to host USDA’s 3rd annual Iftar commemorating the month of Ramadan and the contributions of USDA’s Muslim employees. More than 200 attendees, including USDA employees, Muslim community members, and representatives from faith-based and secular non-profit organizations, gathered at USDA headquarters for an evening with a themed focus on “Food and Faith: Setting a Safe and Healthy Table.”
The lead speaker of the evening was Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, Under Secretary for Food Safety. She spoke about the work of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service on prevention via inspection, as well as consumer education programs on safe food handling techniques. Dr. Hagen also reminded the audience that food preferences are cultural. USDA inspection personnel work in more than 6,000 plants across the country to ensure that food is safe when it reaches the table. Inspectors and veterinarians who work with Halal red meat and poultry establishments are trained to ensure that animal slaughter is completed according to Islamic law, while at the same time following agency regulations.
The evening also included special recognition for Islamic Relief USA, for their work to end hunger in America and around the world. Islamic Relief has partnered with USDA to help run the Summer Food Service Program at 30 meals sites this summer. Dr. Abed Ayoub, CEO of the non-profit organization, accepted the award saying, “We cannot fill our stomachs while the children down the street go hungry.”
USDA Muslim employees, including Dr. Maqbool Qureshi from the Food Safety and Inspection Service and Dr. Parveen Setia, form the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, were also recognized for their outstanding volunteerism in planning the Iftars and leading the employee-run Organization of South Asian Americans in Agriculture. Iftar guests also had the chance to hear from Rashad Hussain, President Obama’s Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is a time of fasting, prayer, sacrifice, and worship for Muslims around the world. Throughout this month, Muslims fast during the day, abstaining from consuming food or drink from dawn to dusk. Iftar is the meal at which Muslims break their fast at sunset. Last week’s Iftar was the 3rd to be held at USDA, following in the footsteps of the “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” called for by President Obama. As Dr. Hagen stated, the annual Iftar “has become an important way for our department to show respect, honor, and appreciation to the Muslim community.”