WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 15, 2013) -- The Department of Defense celebrated its 15th Iftar meal, July 12, at the Pentagon.
Attending the event were senior defense leaders, White House and congressional staffers, foreign dignitaries, defense attachés, imams, Gold Star families, and Muslims who work in the defense community.
"The month of Ramadan focuses on a lot of things," said Col. Thomas Waynick, the Pentagon chaplain. "Among them, focusing one's heart away from worldly activities, the cleansing of one's soul to free it from harmful impurities, and the practices of self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice and empathy, especially with the less fortunate, and thus encouraging generosity and charity. These things are common to many of the world's religions."
During the month of Ramadan, which this year runs from July 8 through Aug. 7, Muslims are required to fast during daylight hours. The Iftar meal, following sundown, is when Muslims break their fast for the day. In 1999, the Pentagon Chaplain's office first hosted such a dinner to show solidarity with and support for the Islamic community. They have been doing so each year since.
Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Muslim, was the guest speaker at this year's Iftar meal.
The lawmaker spoke about serving humanity. Serving others by tutoring, visiting shut-ins, volunteering time to feed the homeless and building relationships with people less fortunate will help change America, Ellison said.
"I would challenge you to think creatively about what you can do on an individual basis to reorient our society one engagement at a time," Ellison said.
Ellison's son serves in the Army. Having that connection to the military, and being a Muslim, makes an Iftar meal at the Pentagon a significant event for him, Ellison said.
"I worry about [my son] and I want him to be around people who care about him," Ellison said. "He's Muslim, like his father is. I want him to be in a good environment. I feel like coming here [to the Pentagon Iftar] is very special."
The significance of celebrating Iftar at the Pentagon is two-fold, said Air Force Col. Shakir Kahn. First, it informs Muslim Pentagon employees that the Department of Defense supports them. Second, it also allows the senior leadership at the Pentagon a view into the Muslim community.
Command Sgt. Maj. Sultan Mohammed said he believes that the yearly Iftar meals at the Pentagon show that the Department of Defense continues to feel solidarity with the Muslim community, and that healing has happened since 9/11.
"It just shows that America is recovering from its wounds and overcoming its fear of the image that's been portrayed of Muslims," Mohammed said. "We [are] all in one Army, and that when we [were] attacked [on 9/11], not only was America attacked, but Muslims [were] attacked. For us to be able to sit down at an Iftar like this shows [we are] healing. We understand and we appreciate each other and it's time to heal. It's actually taken too long."
Those in attendance at the Pentagon Iftar were not all Muslim. Steven Redmann, executive director of U.S. Army Headquarters Services, said that though he is not Muslim, he was able to learn from the congressman's message about service, and find common themes that aligned with his Catholic faith.
"We need to respect [Muslims fasting during Ramadan] and understand why they do that," Redman said. "If we could all just be more accepting, I think we'd all be better off."
At the Pentagon, approximately 30-40 Department of Defense personnel make up a core group of Muslim worshipers, Waynick said.
Across the Army, there are more than 1,600 Muslims, said Lt. Col. Claude Brittian, the deputy Pentagon chaplain. He said that number is not exact, however, because many Muslims do not declare their religion for fear of being ostracized.