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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Remarks at the President's Iftaar Dinner

Copley Formal Lounge
Georgetown University
September 2, 2009

Thank you Miriam, and to the members of the Georgetown Muslim community here tonight, Ramadan Mubarak.

It is a pleasure to join with you during this holy month of Ramadan, when Islamic teaching tells us that God first revealed his word in the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad.

It is my great delight to join with all of you tonight. For today’s fasting is over, and tonight’s feasting will begin. Both are essential to Ramadan. Each is critical to the communities represented here tonight. For the spiritual and scholarly traditions of both teach that growth and understanding come from quiet contemplation as well as cheerful conversation.

We seek solitude for contemplative prayer, for study, for illumination. But personal prayers, powerful scholarship, and penetrating insights, are not sufficient to educate the whole person or to build bridges of understanding between individuals, communities and faiths. Rather, we must move from the fast to the feast. Quiet must be followed by conversation; solitude must be followed by sociability, hospitality, and service.

That idea of joining the two has been a guiding principle of Georgetown since our founding more than two centuries ago. The principle is inscribed on the Georgetown shield. Taken from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, “Utraque Unum,” or “Both into One,” captures the range of dynamic tensions; bonding of feasting and fasting; the gathering of arts and sciences; the joining of faith and reason in the pursuit of understanding.

It is also inherent in the spirit of the Iftaar dinners. So after dinner, I’ll speak briefly about reaching to fulfillment through both fasting and feasting.

But now I would like to begin our evening by introducing Miriam Abu-Ali, President of the Georgetown University Muslim Student’s Association. She is a senior at Georgetown College, majoring in Government and minoring in Arabic.

Miriam will provide our blessing this evening . . .

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I hope you enjoyed your dinner. Evenings such as this remind us of many things:

Of the extraordinary contributions that Islam has made to the world.

Of the extraordinary contributions that countless generations of Muslim faithful have made to scholarship.

And of the extraordinary contributions – and difference – that our Muslim community has made here on the Hilltop.

Evenings such as this one also reinforce what we all share as people of faith – common traditions, ideals and values. Each faith teaches the importance of fasting, such as Ramadan, Yom Kippur, and Lent. And each tradition recognizes feasting as well, such as Eid al-Fitr, Rosh Hashanah, and Easter.

Our collective creeds make it clear that, together, this dynamic of fasts and feasts are a means to something greater. Solitude creates a space for prayer, for analysis, for self-awareness. Togetherness creates a place for openness, for hospitality, for service. And when we move from the fast to the feast, we create bonds of understanding and build a community in diversity.

Secluded areas are essential for study. Yet those solitary spaces can become confining places. Our collective creeds call us to move from the fast to the feast, to meet the friend, to be hospitable to the stranger. For when we do so, we build bridges and create unbreakable bonds of understanding.

Georgetown has always been a place that seeks to provide the members of its community with the opportunity to develop the necessary skills and abilities to build these bridges – and never has this been more important than it is at this moment in time.

Our world is growing smaller. Nations are more interdependent, individuals more interconnected, and humanity less divided by narrow domestic walls. Unfortunately, as our world has grown closer, we’ve also seen it become increasingly polarized and prone to conflict.

In such an environment, understanding others’ experience – their perspective – is imperative. In such an environment, we deny or ignore others with values, customs, faiths, and religions that are different from our own at our peril. As the Qur’an tells us (Chapter 49 verse 13), “We created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know and honor each other…”

We must all work to build bridges between communities of faith and religious tradition. And we must start by building these bridges on our own campus…in our own communities. The global community desperately needs us to work in the spirit of Utraque Unum.

I know that this is a view shared by Imam Yahya Hendi. All of us know him well, for he is a colleague, a counselor, and a friend. He is our first Muslim Chaplain. And last month marked his tenth year of service at Georgetown. Imam Hendi is a well-known speaker, and has written on numerous topics, including women in Islam, and religion and Islam in the United States. I am so glad he has joined us tonight. It is now my pleasure to introduce Imam Yahya Hendi…

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Thank you Imam Hendi for your thoughts and insights…and for helping to make this a truly special evening. I also want to thank all of you, again, for joining us for this dinner…for this celebration of fasting and feasting…and for this opportunity to honor Islam and its immeasurable contributions.

On behalf of the entire Georgetown community, Ramadan Kareem.

Goodnight.

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