Obama: Faith should unite not divide


At the recently held National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama declared that faith should be a force for unity -- not an "excuse for prejudice and intolerance" -- and pledged that his faith-based programs will not favor any religious group or religious groups over secular ones.

President Obama's full prepared remarks are below:

Good morning. I want to thank the Co-Chairs of this breakfast, Representatives Heath Shuler and Vernon Ehlers. I'd also like to thank Tony Blair for coming today, as well as our Vice President, Joe Biden, members of my Cabinet, members of Congress, clergy, friends, and dignitaries from across the world.

Jesus told us to "love thy neighbor as thyself."

Michelle and I are honored to join you in prayer this morning. I know this breakfast has a long history in Washington, and faith has always been a guiding force in our family's life, so we feel very much at home and look forward to keeping this tradition alive during our time here. 

The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow."

It's a tradition that I'm told actually began many years ago in the city of Seattle. It was the height of the Great Depression, and most people found themselves out of work. Many fell into poverty. Some lost everything. 

The leaders of the community did all that they could for those who were suffering in their midst. And then they decided to do something more: they prayed. It didn't matter what party or religious affiliation to which they belonged. They simply gathered one morning as brothers and sisters to share a meal and talk with God. 

In Islam, there is a hadith that reads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself."

These breakfasts soon sprouted up throughout Seattle, and quickly spread to cities and towns across America, eventually making their way to Washington. A short time after President Eisenhower asked a group of Senators if he could join their prayer breakfast, it became a national event. And today, as I see presidents and dignitaries here from every corner of the globe, it strikes me that this is one of the rare occasions that still brings much of the world together in a moment of peace and goodwill.

I raise this history because far too often, we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another - as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance. Wars have been waged. Innocents have been slaughtered. For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted, all in the name of perceived righteousness. 

There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we're going next - and some subscribe to no faith at all. 

But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know. 

The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another - or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities..

We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to "love thy neighbor as thyself." The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." In Islam, there is a hadith that reads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth. 

It is an ancient rule; a simple rule; but also one of the most challenging. For it asks each of us to take some measure of responsibility for the well-being of people we may not know or worship with or agree with on every issue. Sometimes, it asks us to reconcile with bitter enemies or resolve ancient hatreds. And that requires a living, breathing, active faith. It requires us not only to believe, but to do - to give something of ourselves for the benefit of others and the betterment of our world. 

In this way, the particular faith that motivates each of us can promote a greater good for all of us. Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty as citizens of America, and it will be the purpose of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that I'm announcing later today. 

The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another - or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state. This work is important, because whether it's a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training to those who need work, few are closer to what's happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them.

We will also reach out to leaders and scholars around the world to foster a more productive and peaceful dialogue on faith. I don't expect divisions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe that long-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. But I do believe that if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, then perhaps old rifts will start to mend and new partnerships will begin to emerge. In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding. 

This is my hope. This is my prayer. 

I believe this good is possible because my faith teaches me that all is possible, but I also believe because of what I have seen and what I have lived. 

I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I've ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done. 

I didn't become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck - no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God's spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose - His purpose. 

In different ways and different forms, it is that spirit and sense of purpose that drew friends and neighbors to that first prayer breakfast in Seattle all those years ago, during another trying time for our nation. It is what led friends and neighbors from so many faiths and nations here today. We come to break bread and give thanks and seek guidance, but also to rededicate ourselves to the mission of love and service that lies at the heart of all humanity. As St. Augustine once said, "Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you." 

So let us pray together on this February morning, but let us also work together in all the days and months ahead. For it is only through common struggle and common effort, as brothers and sisters, that we fulfill our highest purpose as beloved children of God. I ask you to join me in that effort, and I also ask that you pray for me, for my family, and for the continued perfection of our union. Thank you.

Feb 5th 2009


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  18 Comments   Comment

  1. Kris MacPherson from Malaysia

    If we look at President's Obama speech, yes one might be astounded or impressed, if it's content is taken literally. But accepting that he or the USA or the west has good intentions just because of one speech, then it shows that we can even be naive beyond belief.

    BUT, understand this. Did he really meant what he said, or is he just doing it, on behalf of Islam enemies as another strategy to deceive Muslims and lure them into believing that Muslims need not worry anything now, that it's okay for US to still dominate the world, that it's okay to still continue to be present in Arab countries for continuing supply of oil ?

    Do we need to believe the USA now ? Do we need to believe that it's okay for USA to dictate to Muslim countries on what laws and legislation they should have, that the Sharia cannot be enforced and impose, that the imposition of Islamic laws are bad for justice ?

    Thus the answer is, we still cannot believe the USA. Let me tell you this Brothers and Sisters, the USA and the west are pretending to be extending the olive branch to Muslim countries, more so now, these are also due to the need to get Muslim countries, particularly Arab countries to invest there, and now that capitalist economy is failing ( please read all my previous post in other articles ), hence they need our money to save their sunken ship.

    Plese, be careful Brothers and Sisters. Do not be so every ready or eager to embrace our enemies, one who try to hug us with an olive branch on the right hand but with a knife on the left hand, which is carefully hidden from behind.

  2. N.Pressimone from USA

    As this new administration unfolds, I'm sure we'll be hearing more on what religions HAVE IN COMMON, rather than what we don't have in common. A perfect starting point is the Messiah -

    shared by the Abrahamic religions but revered by only two: Islam & Christianity.

  3. H.A. from Yathrib

    Obama Bin Biden = Bush Jr = whores of the zionists

    Why?

    - To OBB, Israel is a staunch ally of the US.

    Here is the Question?

    - How can one with good conscious be a friend of of a occupying and terrorist state, the zionist state called Israel ( the criminal state on the face of the Earth)?

    WHo is he (OBB) kidding?

    If OBB can't denounce Israel for occupying and terrorizing the Palestanians, he is a coward like rest of the other American Presidents and most Americans.

    In conclusion, America is a nation of cowards and it's a part of the TRIANGLE OF TERROR (US-UK-ISrael - the true triangle of terror).

    I just spilled the truth here. If anyone can't handle this truth..too bad! And..

    Sir/Madam!!! Just let clock do its ticking, you, your hypocrisy and lies will be fried in the fire of hell very soon...It will be much well done (fried) than the freedom fries.

  4. Kris MacPherson from Malaysia

    I entirely agree with Brother Ahmed Ashger and Brother Sam. I completely disagree with this Obama speech. I'll write more letter.

  5. Ahmed Asgher from Bahrain

    Sam

    Thank you for posting that youtube clip on Obama's speach at AIPAC. He said he was touched by seeing the Jewish settlements being targeted but never made the slightest attempt to go and see the Gazans and how they have lived under brutal military occupation, all funded by USA.

    Perhaps when he goes there and reflects on the suffering of Palestinians he might change? But that seems to be the problem. No person in power wants to know the other side. The toher side simply does not exist.

    The Zionist had done well to promote their goal. Their motto from the start was: "Land without people for people without land." Palestinians were and still are not part of their equation.

    Obama should know that if a judge is predominantly biased towards one party over another, that the whole justice system would fall flat on its face. Yet the US does exactly that and expects to be seen as a fair judge of this 60 year old conflict. This is far from the change he has promised!! May be he was talking about the 'change' in his pocket??

    Until the victim's rights are acknowledged there can be no peace.

  6. Richard from USA

    It is most wonderful to see this article being recognized and discussed on this site.

    On the day of 9/11, I knew something horribly was wrong when no jet intercepts appeared. A few years later, I came to realize through research that we were NOT attacked by Islam or any outside group of "terrorists".

    The United States has a history of committing its own "jihads" upon many groups within Humanity on both sides of The Statue of Liberty. A burden to make right.

    All religions do share an interpretation of The Golden Rule. But not all people within these religions share in living an interpretation of the The Golden Rule. They rather just talk about it self-righteously, then to forget themselves and living it rightly.

    Look carefully at the origin of the word "religion": religio (Latin) meaning "conscientiousness". Now look inside this word: "conscience", root origins mean, "to know"; "to be aware"; "consciousness."

    Regardless of the outer garments of any religion, every Human Soul - every Human Consciousness - KNOWS this one Universal Truth. This is the paradox of our present psycho-spiritual dilemma as Humanity at war within itself being turned outward upon the world.

    Look at the power and destruction the world has seen from what we have done over centuries of religious and political turmoil in the name of some great personal deity or ideology.

    Now consider a Greater Power that stands behind this Universal Rule of "Love thy Neighbor" that is at the core of every Human Soul - regardless of all personality appearances - and imagine what this Power could do for us, and the world, if we were to let go of our egos and let It "come forth".

    Obama's words for LIVING this Rule is a beam of Soul Light breaking through the darkness of intolerance, and pointing to what we are all responsible for - as Souls - in the greatest CHANGE coming that world has ever seen.

    All we have to do is stop talking about it and start LIVING IT!

  7. mohamed mohsin from usa

    great speech and he will be good for freedom in the usa for all people and all around the world.

  8. FAZIL BUX from SOUTH AFRICA

    OBAMA IS A MAN OF GREAT WORDS...BUT SO WAS SADDAM. ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS. HE IS HUMAN RIGHTS LEGAL EAGLE...SO WE WERE TOLD. OUR MADIBA HAS SPOKEN OUT AGAINST THE BUSH, BLAIR AND ISRAEL LIKE NO OTHER. CAN HE DO IT?

  9. KC James from USA

    To Abdullah Ibn Adam! Salaam, please read Al Baqarah 2:62 Those who believe in the Quaran and those who follow the Jewish Scriptures and the Christians and the Sabians and any who believe in Allah and the Last Day and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. The Holy Quran indicates in several other verses that Allah rewards righteousness and it is up to HIM TO JUDGE.

  10. meeran from india

    Quran verse 3:64 (translation by Asad)quote " Say: "O followers of earlier revelation! Come unto that tenet which we and you hold in common: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall not ascribe divinity to aught beside Him, and that we shall not take human beings for our lords beside God." And if they turn away, then say: "Bear witness that it is we who have surrendered ourselves unto Him."unquote.

    Can we come to comman terms on which we agree on what is revealed. let peace prevail. will we be able to bequeath a peaceful and friendly planet to our posterity.

  11. Sylvia Horton from Canada

    Salam alaikum to all,

    I have to agree with Abdullah Ibn Adam. I was hoping that Obama would have come out and condemened the massacare of the Gazans. After he sat quietly, I began to look at him in a different way. See, actions do speak louder than words. I think that American Muslims want to be counted and want someone to believe in. Which the Quran and Hadiths have already given us that. I think that Obama is doing the best that he can do, but we as Muslims should only put our trust and faith in Allah. No matter how nice Obamas words are. Remember that Obama did not visit one mosque whenever he was running for office. Remember that it was Colin Powell who manned up and said, there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim. So what if a Muslim wanted to run for President of the U.S.?

    I hope the best for Obama, but we should not be fooled by a few good words. Anyone can quote the Quran, but living by it is another thing.

    Fatimah

  12. Mohammad Syed from USA

    Allah is Peace, Islam is Peace, and Allah loves peace makers. I wish President Obama a great success in his efforts to bring peace to the World.

    Mohammad

  13. Babandi A. Gumel from U.K

    Its time to give peace a chance to succeed for the whole humanity.We are sick and tired of war that brings nothing but evil consequence around the Globe.Remember the Hadith which says humanity is like the family of Allah.We should revisit the treaty of Hudeibia between the Prophet (S.A.W) and the Qureish.The Muslims were forced to swallow the bitter pill which eventually gave them success as promised by Allah and prophesised by the beloved Prophet of Allah in the Quran in Surah Fat-h and the Hadith.We need to invite the whole humanity including Obama to the true Deen of Islam and pray to Allah to give them Hidayah.We need to do the invitation with Hikmah and we must show good example as they say actions speak louder than words like the Prophet (S.A.W) whom we should all imitate from morning till evening and from cradle to grave.He is the best of mankind as Leader,commander,judge, just adl husband,pious,student (of Jibbrail) unlettered Scholar, professor teacher father brother neighbour astronaut and whatever you may think of.The Prophet was the best example and we should all study his life and imitate him we will definitely become successful in both worlds.So we must give peace a chance to succeed.

  14. Abdullah Ibn Adam from United Kiingdom

    I find it quite offensive that this article is placed on a Muslim website such as Islamicity! Have you not got the Qur'an? Do you not read it's meaning?

    3:118 "O ye who believe! Take not into your intimacy those outside your ranks *: They will not fail to corrupt you. They only desire your ruin: Rank hatred has already appeared from their mouths: What their hearts conceal is far worse. We have made plain to you the Signs, if ye have wisdom."

    *(religion is the correct translation not ranks - the word in Arabic is deen)

    Obama the 'peacemaker' who sat not silent - against the massacre of Gaza where countless thousands died and were injured - but in full fledged outright support of Israel's actions.

    How can people be so disgraceful as to ally themselves with the very ones supporting the war against our brothers.

    Shame on you for posting this disgraceful article up as though in Obama there is some Islamic example to change the world - as though a Khalifah or the Mahdi has risen.

    It is so sad to see the ignorance of Muslim Americans reaching untold levels. Where are you Oh Believing Lions of America? Where are your words of truth?

    How can we live to see apostate murtad rulers presented as role models to our community who do nothing more than sit as mouthpieces for the highest bidders!

    Where has our honour gone?

    I pray that someone will realise this shameful mistake and remove this article from the website. Allah (SwT) is watching your every move and decision.

    Da'wah to the book of Allah and the sunnah of the messenger (sAaws) is essential with wisdom and beautiful preaching but instead many Muslims are being given dawah by the likes of Obama and it is not the da'wah of our Prophets (as) but instead it is the dawah of the hell-fire.

    My dear brothers, when Allah (SwT) revealed the book He COMPLETED every aspect of life - Political, Social, economical, spirtual... Why then do we turn to others besides of H

  15. KC James from USA

    Thank you, Islamicity, for printing this article. The hope for a better future for the U.S. and our relationship with other countries rests on Obama's shoulders. I pray for him every day, I shall include his family in my prayers! I also hope he will withdraw our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan!

  16. Hyat from Canada

    I hope and pray that Mr. Oboma is honest and sincere in his speech. Allah (God) said in the Quran that all people are equal Arabs; white, black or any other people regardless of color or race are all equal in his eyes no one is better than the other. The divisions were made because humans are very greedy and selfish that is why we are in the state we are in. So I believe that through prayer and working together as human beings will we prosper.

    We need more than to have breakfast together once a year to accomplish this. We need to reach out sincerely reach out to our brothers and sisters in the world continuously. In order that we may achieve our goals, live in harmony peace and without fear.

    "Jesus told us to "love thy neighbor as thyself."

    "The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow."

    In Islam, there is a hadith that reads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself these are God's commands to us. Here is my humble recipe for world peace.

    A recipe for a better world;

    Respect for life

    Honesty

    Equality

    Liberty

    Freedom for all

    We are all human beings no matter what color or race

    A white person is not better than black and vise versa and most of all accountability is a good ingredients

  17. James Pike from USA

    Biblical Christianity will continue to spread no matter what Obama does or says. Also Biblical Christianity will not compromise with other religions or seculasr forces.