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Obama devotes iftar to Muslim women.

At his annual White House iftar dinner Friday, President Obama focused on the role of Muslim women, and made a point of defending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Muslim deputy, who has been attacked by some Republicans as a possible infiltrator from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Obama called Huma Abedin, the senior aide to Clinton since she was in the Senate, an "American patriot."

"She has been nothing less than extraordinary in representing our country and the democratic values that we hold dear," Obama said at the iftar he holds each year for prominent American Muslims--including both Muslim congressmen, Democrats Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana-and the diplomatic corps.

"The American people owe her a debt of gratitude because Huma is an American patriot and an example of what we need in this country--more public servants with her sense of decency, her grace and her generosity of spirit."

In June, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota along with four other Republican lawmakers questioned Abedin's security clearance in a letter to the State Department's inspector general. The letter suggested members of her family had connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the writers said may be seeking access through her to high levels of the US government.


"If my family members were associated with Hamas, a terrorist organization, that alone could be sufficient to disqualify me from getting a security clearance," Bachmann said on conservative Glenn Beck's talk show. Abedin, a Muslim from a family that immigrated from Pakistan, was seated on Obama's right at the dinner and appeared visibly moved as the president spoke to a room full of religious leaders, elected officials and diplomats. Senior Republicans in Congress, including House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and Senator John McCain, rallied to Abedin's defense as soon as Bachmann launched her attack.

Their quick outspokenness seems to have discredited the at tack with most Republicans and confined it to the extreme rightwing of the GOP.

Obama focused his speech at the dinner on women in Islam, starting with the presence of more Muslim women at the Olympics and finishing with his defense of Abedin. Obama noted that for the first time in Olympic history each team from a Muslim-majority country included at least one woman.

As is usual at White House events, the guest list included not just prominent figures but ordinary Americans. Obama introduced Hala Baig, a college student who got Obama's attention when she wrote him about what it's like to grow up Muslim in America and said she wished to have a career in international affairs to help improve understanding between the United States and the Muslim world.

He also introduced Sanaa Nadim, one of the first Muslim chaplains at an American college, and Auysha Muhayya, who was born in Afghanistan, came to the United States as a refugee, and is now a language teacher.

Thomas Jefferson held the first known White House iftar in 1805, a dinner in honor of Tunisia's envoy in Washington. It is not believed there was another White House iftar until George W. Bush, the first president to actively campaign for Muslim votes, revived the practice in 2001. Obama continued the practice and it seems likely to be a fixture at the White House no matter who is president in the future.

For this year's iftar, the Qoran that Jefferson had in his library was on display where the arriving guests could see it. "That's a reminder," Obama said, "along with the generations of patriotic Muslims in America, that Islam--like so many faiths--is part of our national story."

Highlights from the menu included greens from the Mrs. Obama's kitchen garden with a tarragon dressing, lavash bread, thyme roasted chicken and sesame halvah crunch for dessert.

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Title Annotation:Faith: Religion and the world
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Aug 17, 2012
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