August 10th, 2011
10:57 PM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) - President Barack Obama spoke in stark tones Wednesday night about what he said were the positive contributions of American Muslims in the years since the September 11, 2001, attacks, in remarks that came a month before the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
“Muslim Americans were innocent passengers on those planes,” Obama said, referring to the aircraft that slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the September 11 attacks, “including a young married couple looking forward to the birth of their first child."
“They were workers in the Twin Towers - Americans by birth and Americans by choice, immigrants who crossed the oceans to give their children a better life,” he continued.
Obama was speaking at a White House Iftar dinner, held to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The White House invited Muslim families who had relatives working in the Twin Towers on 9/11 to the dinner, with the president asking guests to stand and acknowledge them on Wednesday night.
“Muslim Americans were first responders,” Obama said, recounting events of September 11, “the former police cadet who raced to the scene to help and then was lost when the towers collapsed around him; the EMTs who evacuated so many to safety; the nurse who tended to so many victims; the naval officer at the Pentagon who rushed into the flames and pulled the injured to safety.”
“On this 10th anniversary, we honor these men and women for what they are - American heroes.”
The president also thanked American Muslims for their military service during “10 hard years of war.”
At another point in his remarks, Obama noted that American Muslims serve as firefighters, police officers and counterterrorism specialists. “Make no mistake,” Obama said. “Muslim Americans help to keep us safe.”
At a time when Muslim Americans are facing stepped up scrutiny – with congressional hearings on radicalization in U.S. Muslim communities and legislatures across the country weighing bills to outlaw Sharia, or Muslim law – Obama called for Americans to treat Muslims with fairness and respect.
Obama called for “an America that doesn’t simply tolerate people of different backgrounds and beliefs, but an America where we are enriched by our diversity.”
“An America where we treat one another with respect and with dignity,” he continued, “remembering that here in the United States there is no ‘them’ or ‘us;’ it’s just us.”
Iftar dinners are held during Ramadan to break the daily fast. President Bill Clinton started the tradition of such dinners at the White House, with George W. Bush and Obama continuing it.
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