Obama uses annual Iftar dinner to speak out against intolerance

President Obama called on Americans to stand against religious, racial, and ethnic prejudices during the Ramadan holiday dinner.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama greets Samantha Elauf while hosting the Iftar dinner in observance of Ramadan at the White House in Washington June 22, 2015. Elauf won a recent Supreme Court discrimination case after being denied a job for wearing a religious headscarf. REUTERS/Kevin

President Obama hosted the White House's annual Iftar dinner on Monday to mark the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.

Iftar is the evening meal during the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims finish their daily fast. During the dinner, President Obama said that Americans stand united in rejecting the targeting of any religious or ethnic group.

"We affirm that whatever our faith, we're all one family," he said at the East Room dinner.

While the first White House Iftar was actually hosted by Thomas Jefferson in 1805, the tradition of holding an annual Iftar dinner at the White House was started by President Bill Clinton, at the behest of his wife Hillary Clinton, and was continued by President George W. Bush.

The White House invited a few young Muslim Americans, who Obama held up as examples of what can be achieved in the United States. One of them was Samantha Elauf, a young Muslim American who went to the Supreme Court to defend her right to wear a headscarf, or hijab. Ms. Elauf was 17 in 2008 when she was rejected for a sales job in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after wearing a hijab to an interview.

Meanwhile, two Muslim Minnesota residents, Munira Khalif and Kadra Mohamad, were invited to sit at the President's table. Ms. Khalif was accepted to all eight Ivy League schools upon finishing high school this year. Ms. Mohamad was St. Paul's first female Somali-American police officer.

During the event, Obama mentioned the three Muslims students killed in February in Chapel Hill, N.C. and the nine black church members killed last week in Charleston, S.C.

"As Americans, we insist that nobody should be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, who they love, how they worship," he said. "We stand united against these hateful acts."

Nearly the entire diplomatic corps representing the Islamic world attended the event. There were about 150 guests, including some members of Congress.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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