The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks reshaped views of the Islamic faith, sparking sometimes intense debate about Muslims in America.
That debate still rages today, with Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) holding a series of hearings on radicalization of Islam and Republican presidential candidates sparring over whether Muslims should be hired to work in the federal government.
But in one corner of Washington, Muslim outreach is robust.
From Egypt to India to Qatar, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s efforts have been forged during her globetrotting as she works to strengthen diplomatic relations with Muslims abroad. On Wednesday night, she brought her efforts home.
Seeking to advance the Obama administration’s goal of improving relations with Muslims, the Secretary hosted a reception at the State Department commemorating Eid ul-Fitr, a Muslim holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
The reception centered on celebrating Muslim athletes, with special guests including former Atlanta Falcons football player Ephraim Salaam, British professional boxer Amir Khan, Olympic fencing hopeful Ibtihaj Muhammad and several former Fordson High School football players who are featured in the newly released documentary “Fordson.”
“The human drive to run faster and climb higher is universal and universally celebrated,” Clinton told a gathering of about 150 guests, including Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).
Ten years after 9/11, the United States is still strong, Clinton said.
“We can’t pretend that there have not been difficulties and divisions ... but the power of America has always been anchored in our ability to come together and move forward as a nation,” she said.
Similar Ramadan events have been hosted this year by the White House and various embassies, including the British Embassy and the Israeli Embassy.
Commemorating influential Muslims and Islamic holidays has been a State Department tradition for years. At last year’s event, the Secretary honored 75 American Muslims the State Department calls “Generation Change,” who have served as sources of inspiration in their communities. The group included poets, entrepreneurs, comedians, musicians, grass-roots leaders, activists and designers.
But like much of the Department’s Muslim outreach efforts, these events typically take place under the radar. According to Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, reaching out to Muslims is not a goal the State Department necessarily cares to advertise.
“There is, in some cases, a political price to pay for Muslim outreach,” she said. “There is a segment of our country that is very hostile. I think that maybe the Secretary is interested in getting work done rather than getting a lot of fanfare,” she said.
Christine Brim, chief operating officer of the Center for Security Policy, said such events display favoritism for Islam.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.