Eid-al-Adha Reception at Villa Taverna
Rome, October 25, 2012
Good evening and welcome to Villa Taverna. I am honored to once again host a group of distinguished guests from the Muslim community and extend my best wishes to each of you for Eid Al Adha – the day on which Muslims celebrate the period of pilgrimage and sacrifice.
Muslims across the globe gather today to commemorate Eid al Adha and Abraham’s commitment to God. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Ishmael as a way of demonstrating his obedience to God, before God intervened. Because Abraham was willing to sacrifice Ishmael, with Ishmael’s agreement, God instead gave them a sheep to sacrifice.
I find this to be an instructive story, shared by many faith communities, and feel that it is relevant in our societies today in which so many people are making sacrifices. It takes sacrifice for many devout Muslims to perform the Hajj, and I congratulate them on this end of the Hajj season. Thousands of American Muslims are among those who have joined one of the world’s largest and most diverse gatherings in making the pilgrimage to Mecca.
America was founded by people who were willing to risk everything in order to be free to practice their beliefs. We cherish religious freedom and recognize it as a universal human right. Many people across the world have made courageous commitments in defense of that human right. So I think it is particularly fitting that we come together tonight on this special remembrance of sacrifice.
President Obama often speaks of the importance of religious freedom. In his greeting in August he noted that celebrations such as the Eid holidays speak to the truth that communities of faith – including the millions of American Muslims – enrich our national life, strengthen our democracy and uphold our freedoms, including the freedom of religion. That is why we stand with people of all faiths, in the United States and around the world, in protecting and advancing this universal right.
We have been witnessing historic changes towards freedom and democratization in the Middle East and North Africa. But as we all know, change is not easy and takes time. We are all aware of the recent tragedy in Benghazi which took the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens and our three other colleagues. As Secretary Clinton pointed out during her recent Eid reception in which she and the Libyan Ambassador to Washington honored Ambassador Stevens’ dedication to freedom and democracy, “we must recommit ourselves to working toward a future marked by understanding and acceptance, rather than distrust, hatred, and fear.” We must be tolerant of differences that can sometimes seem irreconcilable, and, above all, we must be patient.
Two days ago I spent time right here with Ambassador Stevens’ family. They were here more in celebration rather than in mourning. Chris loved Italy, and he loved Libya and the Arab world. His family were proud of the commitment that Ambassador Stevens had shown to bringing the Libyan and U.S. communities together. Chris worked here with me in Rome for a couple of months before he went to Benghazi to help the Libyans begin working to rebuild their newly-freed country. He brought a special brand of caring and optimism to that country. It is appropriate, therefore, to remember the sacrifices of Ambassador Stevens, his family and so many Muslims during this time of transition.
I am pleased that you are here with us tonight for an evening of fellowship and to share a meal together in what has become an annual tradition here at Villa Taverna. I wish to thank you for joining us tonight. By coming together to break bread, I hope that our multi-faith communities are better able to advance our common aspirations – to live together in peace and security, to educate our children, to find work with dignity, and to love our families, our communities, and our God.
It is in that spirit that my wife, Rose, and I welcome you, and look forward to talking with you during the course of the evening.
Thank you for being here. Eid Mubarak.