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Obama's remarks about Ground Zero mosque: The transcript

Updated 10:00 p.m.
President Obama's remarks for Friday night's iftar dinner at the White House, marking the breaking of the daily Ramadan feast, transcribed and distributed by the administration:

Good evening, everybody. Welcome. Please, have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House. To you, to Muslim Americans across our country, and to more than one billion Muslims around the world, I extend my best wishes on this holy month. Ramadan Kareem.

I want to welcome members of the diplomatic corps; members of my administration; and members of Congress, including Rush Holt, John Conyers, and Andre Carson, who is one of two Muslim American members of Congress, along with Keith Ellison. So welcome, all of you.

Here at the White House, we have a tradition of hosting iftars that goes back several years, just as we host Christmas parties and seders and Diwali celebrations. And these events celebrate the role of faith in the lives of the American people. They remind us of the basic truth that we are all children of God, and we all draw strength and a sense of purpose from our beliefs.

These events are also an affirmation of who we are as Americans. Our Founders understood that the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of our people was to protect their freedom to practice religion. In the Virginia Act of Establishing Religion Freedom, Thomas Jefferson wrote that "all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion." The First Amendment of our Constitution established the freedom of religion as the law of the land. And that right has been upheld ever since.

Indeed, over the course of our history, religion has flourished within our borders precisely because Americans have had the right to worship as they choose -- including the right to believe in no religion at all. And it is a testament to the wisdom of our Founders that America remains deeply religious -- a nation where the ability of peoples of different faiths to coexist peacefully and with mutual respect for one another stands in stark contrast to the religious conflict that persists elsewhere around the globe.

Now, that's not to say that religion is without controversy. Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities -- particularly New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. And Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.

We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who led the response to that attack -- from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us also remember who we're fighting against, and what we're fighting for. Our enemies respect no religious freedom. Al Qaeda's cause is not Islam -- it's a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders -- they're terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion -- and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.

So that's who we're fighting against. And the reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms -- it is the strength of our values. The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish. The laws that we apply without regard to race, or religion, or wealth, or status. Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect towards those who are different from us -- and that way of life, that quintessentially American creed, stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.

In my inaugural address I said that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus --- and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and every culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. And that diversity can bring difficult debates. This is not unique to our time. Past eras have seen controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches. But time and again, the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues, and stay true to our core values, and emerge stronger for it. So it must be -- and will be -- today.

And tonight, we are reminded that Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity. And Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been a part of America. The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan --- making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago.

Like so many other immigrants, generations of Muslims came to forge their future here. They became farmers and merchants, worked in mills and factories. They helped lay the railroads. They helped to build America. They founded the first Islamic center in New York City in the 1890s. They built America's first mosque on the prairie of North Dakota. And perhaps the oldest surviving mosque in America --- still in use today --- is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Today, our nation is strengthened by millions of Muslim Americans. They excel in every walk of life. Muslim American communities --- including mosques in all 50 states --- also serve their neighbors. Muslim Americans protect our communities as police officers and firefighters and first responders. Muslim American clerics have spoken out against terror and extremism, reaffirming that Islam teaches that one must save human life, not take it. And Muslim Americans serve with honor in our military. At next week's iftar at the Pentagon, tribute will be paid to three soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq and now rest among the heroes of Arlington National Cemetery.

These Muslim Americans died for the security that we depend on, and the freedoms that we cherish. They are part of an unbroken line of Americans that stretches back to our founding; Americans of all faiths who have served and sacrificed to extend the promise of America to new generations, and to ensure that what is exceptional about America is protected -- our commitment to stay true to our core values, and our ability slowly but surely to perfect our union.

For in the end, we remain "one nation, under God, indivisible." And we can only achieve "liberty and justice for all" if we live by that one rule at the heart of every great religion, including Islam --- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

So thank you all for being here. I wish you a blessed Ramadan. And with that, let us eat.

By Post Editor  |  August 13, 2010; 9:19 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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Comments

I served this nation as a soldier for 20 years. I also have friends who are casualties of these terrible times, and my heart goes out to those who lost friends and loved ones in the 9/11 tragedy. Surely it will be some time before the events of that day can be discussed without great emotion, if ever. But here's the thing... soldiers serve the nation, and the ideals upon which our country was founded. I suppose that some people, perhaps more clever or sophisticated than I, can find a way to parse things differently. But for a simple sergeant it works like this. All Americans have all of the rights afforded by our Constitution. Period. I don't understand the issue. I have to admit, I really have no knowledge of the demographic breakdown of the casualties from the bombings. I just find it very difficult to believe that neither amongst those victims, first responders, families and friends, or anyone else who suffered personal loss and tragedy on that day, that there was not a single Muslim. Muslims did not attack us on 9/11, criminals did. Nihilists who carefully confuse their agenda with the teachings of Islam. Any other interpretation is in my opinion false, and a result of anger and frustration. Such a reaction is understandable, but only to a point. I wish it were otherwise, but nothing can be done to alter the events of that day. History is like that. Nothing can be done to redress the grievances of the Americans of Japanese descent who were interred in camps as a result of the actions of the Japanese government on December 7th either, except to never let such a thing happen again. Larger than any one of us, more important than any of our personal feelings, are the ideals upon which this nation was founded. Without adherance to our ideals we are not in any way special in the world. We must walk the walk, as we talk the talk, regardless of our pain and sacrifice. Short of this commitment, our grandchildren will inherit a marginalized nation. No person, nor group of persons, nor nation has the inherent right to lead in this world. The right of leadership is earned, and real leaders are followed not because they have authority, but because they understand responsibility. To our politicians I say this ... If you use this controversy to stir up dissent, or to further your own or your party's agenda, you should re-examine your career choice ... you are responsible to uphold the principles of this nation, just as I , and my comrades in arms were responsible to defend it. As I recall from my days of service, there exists no room for interpretation. For all Americans that might feel similar to myself, now is the time to plant the flag, and rally together to defend those things we hold dear. I am proud to live in a country, where I am able to express my opinion, as I have here today, and am greatful for the opportunity to defend our principles. It was my pleasure to serve all of you. With liberty and justice for all.

Posted by: blackhorse2 | August 17, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

kurt4christ, it's funny how you say all of these terrible things right after admitting that you didn't even read the whole thing. You also didn't read any comments from moslems that describe their own actual learnings from their religion as regards to murder.

As a person that reads, I find your enthusiastic self-ignorance to be disturbing... not that you are going to read this comment...

Posted by: Dpickard | August 16, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

“They remind us of the basic truth that we are all children of God, and we all draw strength and a sense of purpose from our beliefs.”

Yes, we are all children of God. But which god are you talking about, the God of the Holy Bible or the Allah of the Koran? Scholars have shown there are significant differences between these two gods. Therefore the god of Islam is not the same God that I serve.

“...if we live by that one rule at the heart of every great religion, including Islam --- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”

I will not debate the legitimacy of the above statement. But one thing is true, according to the Koran; Jesus was not the Son of God. Christians are infidels. Therefore the golden rule, if it really is in Koran, shall never apply to Christians.

Posted by: DaveGray | August 15, 2010 10:35 PM | Report abuse

Now, as I understand it, IF he was "Apostate", there would have been serious issues.

No Issues?

Hmmmm.

Posted by: SAINT---The | August 15, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Our Founding Fathers also put provisions into our Constitution that would allow us to separate church from State, afford us freedom of speech, religion, and pursuits of property. What they failed to take into account is that closed minded, hateful people (and no, I am not referring to Muslims) would equally be afforded these rights and protections.

I respect people's religious views, but so often find a ringing tone of hypocrisy in the thoughts and words of those whom claim to be "American"...perhaps what you view as American is a very narrow-minded view of the world...just because our Founding Fathers were WASPs, does not mean that this country still looks or represents the same mentality. One should use history not to repeat the mistakes of our past...not to use it as an eternal bench mark for what is and is not permitted in an ever-evolving world.

I hope someday all of you so-called Christians will follow the word of your Lord and accept all for what they are; pray for those you consider sinners (because you obviously are free of sin); and let God shut the door to heaven as a way to judge their indiscretions.

In other words...don't judge others for their beliefs, when yours are equally as foreign to them...after all, if yours is the true God, you have little to worry about.

Posted by: globalfreedom | August 14, 2010 11:55 PM | Report abuse

Our Founding Fathers also put provisions into our Constitution that would allow us to separate church from State, afford us freedom of speech, religion, and pursuits of property. What they failed to take into account is that closed minded, hateful people (and no, I am not referring to Muslims) would equally be afforded these rights and protections.

I respect people's religious views, but so often find a ringing tone of hypocrisy in the thoughts and words of those whom claim to be "American"...perhaps what you view as American is a very narrow-minded view of the world...just because our Founding Fathers were WASPs, does not mean that this country still looks or represents the same mentality. One should use history not to repeat the mistakes of our past...not to use it as an eternal bench mark for what is and is not permitted in an ever-evolving world.

I hope someday all of you so-called Christians will follow the word of your Lord and accept all for what they are; prayer for those you consider sinners (because you obviously are free of sin); and let God shut the door to heaven as a way to judge their indiscretions.

In other words...don't judge others for their beliefs, when yours are equally as foreign to them...after all, if yours is the true God, you have little to worry about.

Posted by: globalfreedom | August 14, 2010 11:53 PM | Report abuse

Let me be clear, I don't think Obama is a great speech maker. Far from it. Also, I want to say that I found his addressing such a controversial issue during an Iftar dinner to be in ill taste as I think it incites more anger and divisiveness due to the utter lack sensitivity. Obviously, not all Muslims are evil-hate mongering people who want to kill the infidels. However, to erect a mosque so close to where so much death occurred in the name of Allah and out of pure hatred for the US is not very respectful. What is the reason for building it in that particular place? Is there not another location that it could be built in that might be even better? Considering all the controversy attached it does lead one to wonder why they would want a mosque there? Finally, I find Obama very insulting as he minimizes what happened on 9/11. His reality appears very skewed to me.

Posted by: 1Magpie | August 14, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Let me be clear, I don't think Obama is a great speech maker. Far from it. Also, I want to say that I found his addressing such a controversial issue during an Iftar dinner to be in ill taste as I think it incites more anger and divisiveness due to the utter lack sensitivity. Obviously, not all Muslims are evil-hate mongering people who want to kill the infidels. However, to erect a mosque so close to where so much death occurred in the name of Allah and out of pure hatred for the US is not very respectful. What is the reason for building it in that particular place? Is there not another location that it could be built in that might be even better? Considering all the controversy attached it does lead one to wonder why they would want a mosque there? Finally, I find Obama very insulting as he minimizes what happened on 9/11. His reality appears very skewed to me.

Posted by: 1Magpie | August 14, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Let me be clear, I don't think Obama is a great speech maker. Far from it. Also, I want to say that I found his addressing such a controversial issue during an Iftar dinner to be in ill taste as I think it incites more anger and divisiveness due to the utter lack sensitivity. Obviously, not all Muslims are evil-hate mongering people who want to kill the infidels. However, to erect a mosque so close to where so much death occurred in the name of Allah and out of pure hatred for the US is not very respectful. What is the reason for building it in that particular place? Is there not another location that it could be built in that might be even better? Considering all the controversy attached it does lead one to wonder why they would want a mosque there? Finally, I find Obama very insulting as he minimizes what happened on 9/11. His reality appears very skewed to me.

Posted by: 1Magpie | August 14, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

The Koran also tells me that as a Muslim I am commanded by no other than God Himself to defend all Houses of God with my life if necessary.That includes Mosques,Churches,Synagogues,Cathedrals,A private house...Any house where God's name is worshiped and praised.Regardless of the religion!So how do you call Islam intolerant of other peoples faith.I find it funny that the Church of The Holy Sepulcer,A Christian Sacred Site in Jerusalem is left in the care and trust and security of a Muslim family.The Christians over there trust the Muslims more than they trust the Jews or other Christians!

Posted by: carlnixon73 | August 14, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

What the Koran says about murder.Every Muslim knows that if he or she kills an innocent person.That innocent victim goes straight to Heaven and any sins that the victim may have accumulated in their life now belongs to the killer.In other words if I kill you unjustly.I send you straight to heaven and all your sins now belong to me in addition to the sins I already had on my soul and the sin of murder i just committed.Every Muslim knows this!So no Muslim is going to risk his soul by killing innocent people.The Koran is very clear on this!If I kill you and you are innocent.I just gave you a clean slate!That is the mercy and justice of God.

Posted by: carlnixon73 | August 14, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

the quran says if you are a jew or christian, and are just and pure. you will be saved. the quran also says you can marry non muslims,a nd at my mosque they just got through saying to treat jews and christians like you would your own family. it just depends on how you translate it. thats why we pray in arabic because that is the official original word,a nd not bastardized by a terrorist translator.

Posted by: carlnixon73 | August 14, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Reefer, yes it’s true sometimes that opponents butt in afterwards. If the local authority had adequately included input from the locals the decision may have been different. I get my news from several sources via the internet most of the time.

Reefer, I’ve only seen that name in one other place, Tehachapi.

Posted by: DaveGray | August 14, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

People combine pieces of verse from the Koran and use it to justify their actions, says Khouj. "But to understand the full meaning of the verse," he says, "you have to read the one before it, the one after it, maybe five to six verses to get the full picture."

The "full picture" of Islam and the Koran, say Khouj and Nyang, is captured by Chapter 5, Verse 32: "[I]f anyone slew a person—unless it be for murder or spreading mischief in the land—it would be as if he slew the whole people. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people."

For most Muslims, the callous and indiscriminate taking of human life violates Allah's wishes. It defies the Koran's central message and undermines the peace that Islam promises to deliver to all people.

"Human life in Islam is extremely sacred," says Khouj. "We're not talking about just Muslim [life], but human life in general."

Posted by: carlnixon73 | August 14, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Christians have killed in the name of God, as have Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and others. But it is Muslims who have most recently been accused of turning "divine commandments" into a divine license to kill.

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Terrorists have often said they are striking out against their enemies and oppressors "in the name of Allah." But many Islamic scholars say such terrorists are not only violating the spirit of the Koran, but the letter of it as well.

"You do not kill innocent people, you do not cheat, you do not lie, you do not destroy any property of other human beings," says Imam Abdullah Khouj, an Islamic scholar and director of the Islamic Center, in Washington, D.C.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon "can't be in the name of Allah," he adds.

Posted by: carlnixon73 | August 14, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Reefer, yes it’s true sometimes that opponents butt in afterwards. If the local authority had adequately included input from the locals the decision may have been different. I get my news from several sources via the internet most of the time.

Reefer, I’ve only seen that name in one other place, Tehachapi.

Posted by: DaveGray | August 14, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

The quest to control base instincts such as greed, lust, and cruelty and to seek spiritual purity is known by Muslims as the "great jihad." Featured widely in the Koran, the "great jihad" is a person's most important internal struggle.

Nyang quotes Chapter 3, verse 172, of the Koran: "Of those who answered the call of Allah and the messenger, even after being wounded, those who do right and refrain from wrong have a great reward."

But also in the holy scripture is a reference to "lower jihad," a more earthly and physical—and controversial—struggle. "To those against whom war is made, permission is given [to fight] because they are wronged; and verily, God is most powerful for their aid," quotes Nyang.

This verse speaks of combat or war to be waged against one's oppressors—a struggle sanctioned by God.

But the Koran also states in Chapter 2, Verse 190: "Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loves not transgressors."

The essence of the verse, Nyang says, is to fight back "if you are attacked by your persecutors, but don't fight back indiscriminately. Follow the rules of engagement." According to mainstream Muslim clerics, those "rules of engagement"' are explicit: women, children, and innocent civilians are off limits.

Perversion of Text

Muslims believe the prophet Mohammed received these revelations directly from God some 1400 years ago. It was at a time when he and other Muslims were being driven from their homes, persecuted, and killed. But although the Koran advocates self-defense, its most prevalent message is one of peace and brotherly love.

"If people are intent on using religion to motivate terror or violence, they'll find an excuse there no matter what the actual text says," says David Rodier of American University in Washington, D.C., who is an expert on the world's religions. Like the Koran, he says, most holy scriptures are filled with stories of war and warriors, and these images have been used throughout history by some members of every faith to justify bloodshed.

Posted by: carlnixon73 | August 14, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

I do not disagree with the rights of anyone to build a religious center on private property anywhere in the United States; however, I do believe it is entirely insensitive to the feelings of many (not all) who were affected by the events of 9/11.

I cannot help but wonder what the President would have to say about a mosque being constructed on a privately owned piece of property close to the Pentagon.

Posted by: jman52 | August 14, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I could not, as a God-fearing, Country-loving Christian American, read this entire article. Mr. Obama showed no compassion toward this country and pandered more to Muslims who, if they have read their Koran, know ALL infidels must be exterminated. That means us. They will not have peace until this is done.

And if every American would pick up the Bible and read it we would find that the polution and eventual demize of any God-blessed, God-called nation (like Israel in the Old Testament) comes from the accomodation and acceptance of other heathen and ungodly people and their beliefs. It polutes and rots the core of a nation. It's end is death from within.

Our founding fathers made accomodations to worship God freely as we choose - not any religion we desire. Mr. Obama grossly misquoted the intentions of our founding fathers. He is a disgrace to every American! He is repulsive. And America needs to stand up and make a "Change" now before it's too late.

Posted by: kurt4christ | August 14, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Religious bigotry is religious bigotry is religious bigoty [as others have stated].

I realize that there may be many non-bigoted reasons to object to the building of one specific structure in one specific space. But too much of the resistance towards building this community center is based on antipathy towards Islam.

Human motives are usually quite complex and so are hard to figure out. But dislike of the Other is not justification for making life harder on folks because of their religion.

As I said earlier, religious bigotry is religious bigotry is . . . .

Posted by: lindaandeilenah | August 14, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Obama said: "For in the end, we remain "one nation, under God, indivisible."

I thought America was a secular country, and that its founders went to some lengths to NOT call it a nation "under God"?

Posted by: asoders22 | August 14, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

DaveGray,

Opponents only butt in after the local authority has approved the mosque. Where do you get your news ? Fox and Friends ?

Posted by: reefer | August 14, 2010 8:03 AM | Report abuse

A picture of the huge hole in ground-zero and the mosque will be the most popular souvenir for moslem tourists in New-York. It will be the symbol of the Islam victory over America and the Western Civilization. Obama has nice speeches and bad strategy.

Posted by: jos45 | August 14, 2010 7:32 AM | Report abuse

PS

I would feel honored to be invited to the White House for an atheistic dinner.

Posted by: asoders22 | August 14, 2010 5:09 AM | Report abuse

A great speech, as his always are, and a good touch to tell of Jefferson holding the first iftar. History is good to know, we need to know it.

But.

How do we address the hostility of Islam against non-believers, against women, against young people who want to live their oiwn lives? How do we address the fact that humbleness and and an outreached hand from its opposers is in no way impressing Muslims, but seen as weakness? Islam had no Jesus talking of peace, forgiveness and turning the other cheek. It had no time of Enlightment. Those thing are not a part of its cultural or religious legacy.

The mosque so close to Ground Zero, an Islamic tower erected close to where fanatic Muslims destroyed two others, will indeed become a symbol of victory for militant Muslims around the world. They are not in any way touched by American freedoms, they despise it and use it.

A great speech from the president, and true. But how do we address it?

Posted by: asoders22 | August 14, 2010 5:05 AM | Report abuse

Obama said, "And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances."

Yes that is correct. Also those who make these decisions at the local level also listen to the will of the people. We all know that just because we own private property we can't build anything we want. The community has the right to say no.

So Obama, stay out of local community business. You seem to butt in where you don't belong.

Posted by: DaveGray | August 14, 2010 3:24 AM | Report abuse

This is a sad day for America! If my brother is offended then I would rather be wronged. And this has become a great offense to many who lost their love ones during 911. They see this structure as a clear slap in the face. Where is the honor and respect of the Muslim community? Now our President stands with them. God help us. Posted by Rev. Daniel W. Blair author of Final Warning Please visit my website.

Posted by: daniel24 | August 13, 2010 11:10 PM | Report abuse

"...if we live by that one rule at the heart of every great religion, including Islam --- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us."

Could someone please tell me where in the Koran it says this? (Verse and chapter would be nice).

I've read the Koran and found page after page of instructions on how to treat non-Believers, and women as second-class citizens and worse. I can list many examples but I think most people are already aware of this...except of course, Obama

Posted by: AverageJoeBob | August 13, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

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