Eid al-Fitr is a Muslim celebration held at the end of the month-long period of fasting known as Ramadan. It’s a day of togetherness, when families and neighbors gather, all in their best clothes. There are lights, and candy for the kids, and a general atmosphere of festiveness that resembles Christmas or Hanukah.
On July 21, the White House held a reception to celebrate Eid al-Fitr. President Obama spoke and began by welcoming the guests, “proud and patriotic Muslim Americans from across the country and from all walks of life,” as he put it.
Two members of the HIAS U.S. programs team, Ayaan Moussa and Ahmed Abdalla, attended the event. Both work in pre-arrival, coordinating between those who will soon be coming to the U.S. as refugees after having passed a series of security checks as part of their application process and the communities that will soon be welcoming them.
Days after the event, Abdalla is still full of enthusiasm over his trip to the White House. His eyes actually shine as he recalls the experience. “It was the best feeling ever,” he says. “I never dreamt that I would be there one day.”
“It was very unique,” Moussa agrees. “I loved it.”
“For Muslims across the United States and around the world, this is a time of spiritual renewal,” President Obama said. “And it’s a reminder that those values of Islam—which comes from the word salaam, meaning peace—are universal. They bind us all, regardless of our race or religion or creed, in a common purpose, and that is in our shared commitment to the dignity of every human being.”
I ask Abdalla and Moussa what it was like to go to the White House, as Muslims who work for a Jewish organization, and hear from the president, a Christian, about the importance of unity. They agreed that our shared values and commitment to human dignity are what matters most.
“For me, it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish working for a Muslim organization or a Christian, or the reverse. It’s about the work,” said Moussa.
Abdalla heartily agreed. “It’s my passion, working with refugees. Bringing families together and moving people out of harm’s way,” he said. “It’s humanitarian work, helping someone who wants to improve their life.”
“I want them to have the same chance that I had,” added Abdalla, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia in 1996. “I’m enjoying my life now, so I want them to have the same thing.”
HIAS helps resettle refugees of all faiths, including many Muslims. We see this as essential to our work, part of the Jewish obligation to welcome the stranger.
As President Obama said at the Eid celebration, “Muslim Americans have enriched our lives every single day. [They’re] the doctors we trust with our health, entrepreneurs who create jobs, artists who inspire us...[They are] our firefighters, our police officers… And Muslim Americans serve proudly in our armed forces, risking their lives to defend our freedom.”
Today’s Muslim refugees will be the patriotic Muslim-Americans of tomorrow. HIAS is proud to be part of their American story, helping them to start new lives in safety and freedom.
To learn more about how you can help HIAS welcome refugees of all faiths, click here.