WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday praised American Muslims for enriching the nation's culture at a dinner to celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
"The contribution of Muslims to the United States are too long to catalog because Muslims are so interwoven into the fabric of our communities and our country," Obama said at the iftar, the dinner that breaks the holiday's daily fast.
The president joined Cabinet secretaries, members of the diplomatic corps and lawmakers to pay tribute to what he called "a great religion and its commitment to justice and progress."
Attendees included Congress' two Muslim members — Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Andre Carson, D-Ind., as well as ambassadors from Islamic nations and Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.
Obama shared the story of Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, another invited guest, who broke a state record for most career points as a Massachusetts high school student.
"As an honor student, as an athlete on her way to Memphis, Bilqis is an inspiration not simply to Muslim girls — she's an inspiration to all of us," he said.
Obama also noted the contributions of Muhammad Ali, who was not in attendance, though the president borrowed a quote from famous boxer, explaining religion.
"A few years ago," Obama said, "he explained this view — and this is part of why he's The Greatest — saying, 'Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams — they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do — they all contain truths.'"
Ramadan, a monthlong period of prayer, reflection and sunrise-to-sunset fasts, began Aug. 22 in most of the Islamic world. It is believed that God began revealing the Quran to Muhammad during Ramadan, and the faithful are supposed to spend the month in religious reflection, prayer and remembrance of the poor.
White House dinners marking the holy month are nothing new. Former President George W. Bush held iftars during his eight years in office.
Obama has made a special effort since taking office to repair U.S. relations with the world's Muslims, including visits to Turkey and Cairo. In a June speech at the Egyptian capital, as well as in one to another important Muslim audience, in Turkey, Obama said: "America is not — and never will be — at war with Islam."
Obama also released a video message to Muslims before the start to Ramadan. In the video, he said Ramadan's rituals are a reminder of the principles Muslims and Christians have in common, including advancing justice, progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.