On June 20, I had the privilege of participating in an Interfaith Iftar in honor of World Refugee Day with U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie Pitt, and Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne C. Richard. The All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) hosted this remarkable event, which brought together refugee families, social service organizations, interfaith leaders, and members of a number of American religious communities. This was an important opportunity to reiterate both the United States Government as well as the American people’s support for welcoming refugees to our country.
According to the United Nations, 65.3 million people were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution in 2015. This is an unprecedented challenge -- unique in human history -- which is why the United States continues to be the largest single donor to UNHCR, to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), to the World Food Program (WFP), and to a large number of other international and nongovernmental partners.
But as Secretary Kerry stated that evening, “The refugee story, at its heart, is not about statistics. It’s about people.” That evening we were fortunate to have the opportunity to speak and meet with refugees and hear their stories. We met a young man fleeing persecution from Eritrea as well as families who had left their homes in Syria due to the ongoing violence in that country. Some had been in the United States for years; some had been here for a week. Despite challenges, they were all grateful to be out of harm’s way and for the chance to rebuild their lives in peace and security.
We also met with representatives from social service providers such as Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, and ADAMS Social Services, heroic organizations that provide a range of support to refugees from immediate housing and financial assistance to long-term education and employment support. They represent the best of America, and we are grateful for their leadership and continuing generosity.
As in many American houses of worship, the event began with a prayer. The ADAMS Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts then led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America. Afterwards there were speeches, including from an imam and an Evangelical Christian pastor. When the adhaan or call to prayer sounded, we looked out at the audience. We saw members of the American Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Christian, and Bahá'í communities sitting in friendship and solidarity with their American Muslim neighbors as they ended their daylong fast.
In addition to a being an occasion to celebrate and welcome refugees, this Interfaith Iftar was also a powerful reminder that pluralism and diversity are American assets. As Special Envoy Jolie Pitt noted, “[W]e are at our strongest . . . when we draw on our diversity as a people to find unity based on our common values and our larger identity. We are not strong despite our diversity; we are strong because of it.”