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POLITICS: White House

At Ramadan dinner, Obama attributes his success to family and community, not government

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,White House,Barack Obama,Islam,Becket Adams

President Obama said Monday that the only reason that he has been successful in life is because of investments made by his family and his community.

“[A]ll a young person needs is knowing that somebody cares about them and believes in them,” the president said Monday during an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan, the sixth that he has hosted. “I know I'm only here because a few people -- my mother and my grandparents and dedicated teachers -- took time to invest in me.”

Absent from the president’s list of things that helped him get ahead in life is a bloated, bureaucratic government program (yes, he credited teachers, but in many cases that profession is not dependent on government “investment”).

Obama’s remarks came as he praised three dinner guests for their tireless work giving back to their communities: Kelly Carlisle, founder of Acta non Verba, an urban farm project in Oakland, Calif., Muhammed Chaudhry, who created a foundation that better prepares students to embrace science and math, and Aala Mohamed, developer of a STEM curriculum for Muslim students.

“In Islam, there is a hadith that says God helps the servant as long as the servant helps his brother. In other words, we’re summoned to serve and lift up one another, and that’s the lesson of several of our guests here tonight,” he said.

“[T]hese three individuals are just an example of the wonderful work that is done. You’ve made it your mission, each in your own way, to help others overcome barriers and to push back on those forces of inequality and to help the next generation share in the American Dream."

However, as the president praised the three guests, his remarks seemingly transformed into a campaign speech, focusing on jobs, higher wages and investment in education:

And all of us have an obligation to do our part — to help others overcome barriers, to reverse the injustice of inequality and to help more of our fellow citizens share in the promise of America. ...

And so, we’ve got to do everything in our power — as a nation and as individuals — to make sure more Americans have the opportunity to move ahead and move up, whether it’s good wages that reward hard work, good jobs that help provide for a career and a family, or the education that allows every child to realize his potential or her God-given potential. And that’s my mission as President. I want to thank all of those here tonight who in their respective communities try to do the same thing.

Elsewhere in the president’s address he noted the importance of religious freedom in the United States.

“Tonight we reaffirm a simple truth. Fundamental to the character of our country is our freedom of religion — the right to practice our faith as we choose, to change our faith if we choose, or to practice no faith at all and to do all this free from fear of,” he said.

“All of us are deserving of an equal opportunity to thrive — no matter who we are, what we look like, what we believe, or how we pray,” he added.

Absent from the president's comments on religious freedom was any mention of administration's attempt to coerce certain religious groups into subsidizing the cost of contraception and abortifacients, a move that several faith groups, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, say violates their core religious beliefs.

The president continued with his address, again hitting the theme of income inequality.

"So tonight, as we gather to celebrate Ramadan, let’s renew our obligations to one another,” he said. “Let’s commit ourselves — as nations and as individuals — to pursue the peace we seek in our world. And let’s remember whatever our faith, we are servants of God, summoned to care for our brothers and sisters.”

The dinner hosted several foreign dignitaries, including Adel Ahmed Al-Jubeir, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Lukman Al Faily of the Republic of Iraq and Yousef Al Otaiba of the United Arab Emirates.

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