As the 26th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, I attend many ceremonies and cultural events. Last week, I hosted a gathering at my home that was certainly unique to me in my lifetime, yet as natural for me as any gathering of family and friends.
The uniqueness of this event emanates from its rich origin. I hosted 60 members and leaders of the Muslim community and some members of the National Guard at an Iftar dinner.
Some people might ask, “Why host such an event?” Well, for me, there are obvious and rewarding reasons.
Through our State Partnership Program, the National Guard is a familiar face to many Muslim nations and leaders. We have 14 State Partnerships with Muslim countries or Muslim majority countries. Hosting an Iftar, it seemed to me, was an opportunity to reinforce with some of the National Guard’s senior leaders the importance of engagement with Muslim communities.
Also, today we have National Guard troops deployed in Kosovo, the Sinai Desert, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iftar was a way to express how highly we regard and value our relationships and friendships with our Muslim partners, which are grounded in mutual interests and respect.
Taking part in the Iftar reminded me, indeed reminded everyone who attended, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, that we are all part of a larger family; that we are all deserving of each other’s respect and that we are all worthy to live free of tyranny and oppression in a just and peaceful world.
A time of contemplation and reflection, Ramadan offers the focused opportunity to be thankful for all that has been given and for taking the time to give something of ourselves in return. And, at the core of Ramadan are its timeless principles — charity, sacrifice, and compassion. I believe these are principles shared by people of all faiths.
At the dinner, people of many cultures and beliefs came together and talked of receiving through giving, sharing by doing without, and the idea of letting go of daily routines in order to practice self discipline. These are all themes that flow through the heart of Ramadan.
We also celebrated how Muslims have enriched America and its culture — in ways both large and small. In fact, there are many Muslim-Americans who wear the uniform of the United States Armed Forces and who represent the best our nation has to offer here at home and around the world.
All in all, it was a wonderful dinner and a great night. I was proud that senior representatives from the Department of State, Department of Defense, and the U.S. Congress were able to join us for the occasion.
I am also deeply grateful and honored that so many leaders from within the Muslim faith and community, and some key members of the National Guard family joined me as we came together to learn, to engage and to celebrate that which makes us different, but so often brings us together.
Hosting the Iftar reinforced my belief that we must all work together to advance peace and prosperity and to build a more compassionate world. I am enriched by this experience and will remember it always.