Ambassador’s Remarks on Interfaith Iftar Dinner

Ambassador Barks-Ruggles meets with Rwandan Mufti Sheikh Salim Hitimana

As-salamu alaykum.  Ahlan wa sahlan bikum.  Muraho.  Welcome to my home. I want to especially welcome and thank Mufti Sheikh Salim Hitimana for being here with us this evening.  Congratulations to you on your recent election by the Supreme Muslim Council of Rwanda.   My team and I look forward to working with you during your term.

I also want to thank Minister Harerimana (TBD – Internal Security), my fellow Ambassadors (UN, Libya, Uganda, Tanzania, Turkey, Somalia), Members of Parliament, leaders of the Rwanda Muslim Association, Rwanda Muslims Community and the Muslim Women Association, other government representatives, religious leaders of all faiths and creeds, thank you for taking your time to join with us here in breaking the fast.

It is an honor for me to welcome you to this interfaith Iftar dinner during Ramadan, one of the most important months of the Islamic calendar.

Ramadan is a time when friends, family, and communities come together to strengthen bonds of friendship and unity.  In joining together, we deepen our understanding of our own and other faiths, and actively participate in each other’s cultures and traditions. In the words of the great Mohammed Ali, the best boxer I will ever see who died last week, “The word ‘Islam’ means ‘peace.’ The word ‘Muslim’ means ‘one who surrenders to God.’”

I admire Muslims all around the world for their strength and perseverance in performing daily fasts during this month, especially at this time in the Northern hemisphere when the days are very long and very hot.

As President Obama stated during an Iftar dinner he hosted at the White House, “this is a time of spiritual renewal and a reminder of one’s duty to our fellow man — to serve one another and lift up the less fortunate. … In honoring these familiar values together — of peace and charity and forgiveness — we affirm that, whatever our faith, we’re all one family.”

At the United States Embassy in Kigali, we incorporate these values into our work each day as we seek to make the world a better place for all people.  The Embassy community – like the United States itself – is diverse and encompasses women and men from many races and nationalities and faiths, all working as one team to partner with the people of Rwanda to build a brighter future for both our countries.

Rwanda shares with the United States our commitment to religious diversity and interfaith cooperation, and to building a peaceful, secure, and democratic future for all citizens.  Muslim leaders in Rwanda have made clear that this is a priority:  upholding the richness of religious diversity and defending the rights of all.  I know, Mufti Saleh Hitimana, that you have spoken out against extremism and vowed to fight against terrorism.  That is a powerful message.  To achieve the type of society we all want, we must fight to protect the rights of all people.

It is also an especially important message for Americans this week, given the horrible attack in Orlando.  Caused by one of our own – an American citizen – the worst mass shooting in U.S. history is reason for us to reaffirm our commitment to respect diversity in all its forms, including religious practice and sexual orientation.

As President Obama said on Monday, “We have gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear, and we came to regret it. … This is a country founded on basic freedoms, including freedom of religion.  The pluralism and the openness, our rule of law, our civil liberties… Our diversity and our respect for one another, our drawing on the talents of everybody in this country, our making sure that we are treating everybody fairly, that we are not judging people on the basis of what faith they are or what race they are or what ethnicity they are or what their sexual orientation is. That’s what makes this country great.”

I hope this evening will allow us to discuss these shared values that have brought us together.  We have the opportunity to listen to each other, and learn from each other, as we all seek to build a global community that respects every individual,  seeks common ground to work on common problems, and in which people of all faiths can live in harmony and work together to help those in need.

Once again, I would like to thank you all for coming, and on behalf of the United States Embassy, I wish you all Ramadan Mubarak.

I would now like to give the floor to Mufti Salim Hitimana, the newly elected Mufti of the Muslim community in Rwanda, to share a few thoughts with us this evening on this special season.