Ladies and gentlemen, it is a delight to see all of you today, especially during this very holy month of Ramadan. Even as we are all gathered here tonight for this iftar, I’m reminded that all across the United States there are millions of Muslim Americans who are also gathering to celebrate iftar with their family and friends to enjoy a month that brings together the community with a focus on family and charity. From the bottom of my heart, and behalf of all the women and men of the American Embassy in Colombo who are here today, I bid you welcome and Marhabikum!
Ladies and gentlemen, as we reflect on what Ramadan and the holy month means, I personally applaud the dedication of good Sri Lankans all around this country who are seeking to transform their country into a united, reconciled, peaceful, prosperous, and harmonious country, with equal opportunities for all.
We find this very attractive as Americans. We think our diversity is the source of our strength. And when we look at the diversity of Sri Lankan society, we recognize that this is also the strength of Sri Lanka.
The Muslim community in Sri Lanka forms an integral part of your rich cultural heritage. Muslims have been here for many centuries and have been contributing to the prosperity and happiness of this country.
Despite the recent spate of attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses, I applaud that the Sri Lankan Muslim community has remained peaceful, constructive, and resilient. In particular, I and so many others saw how the Muslim community of Sri Lanka joined together to help the people of this country after the recent floods that affected so many of your fellow citizens.
My friends, attacks against religious places of worship are reprehensible, whether here in Sri Lanka, or in the United States of America, or anywhere around the world. I believe that those who spread hatred offend not just the good nature of human beings, but violate the human rights that we all should enjoy. To preserve rule of law, to preserve harmony, religious freedom, and tolerance and mutual respect, it is imperative that anybody engaging in such acts of violence should be arrested and brought to trial.
Friends, the U.S. Embassy’s relationship with the Muslim community in Sri Lanka, especially in the Eastern Province, spans many decades. We have USAID programs – our United States Agency for International Development – helping bring clean drinking water and better sanitation and health facilities to the people of the East. We also are trying to help our Sri Lankan friends in case of any natural disaster that may happen, as recently done during the floods down south. And I’m reminded by my Embassy team that even as far back as 1957, the United States was helping with disaster relief right here in Batticaloa.
USAID is also helping people’s lives, helping people grow better, stronger crops, improving technical know-how, and providing equipment and material to strengthen people’s livelihoods, create jobs, and build stronger communities.
Our Embassy in Colombo is also supporting the construction and renovation of schools in Muslim, Sinhalese, and Tamil communities all across the Eastern Province. This is part of a commitment that runs several hundred million Sri Lankan Rupees to help the former conflict areas get back on their feet and ensure those children can have a proper education.
The United States has also contributed more than 8 billion rupees to demining efforts across the country. Tomorrow I will join our partners to complete mine clearance operations in Batticaloa, making it the first district in Sri Lanka to achieve “residual risk” status. This is a very important milestone to be the first district in Sri Lanka declared mine-impact free. And we will continue working to ensure that all of Sri Lanka become mine-impact free, allowing people to recover after decades of war.
We are also proud to host so many alumni of United States government-sponsored exchange programs, who return from their visits to become leaders in Sri Lanka in government, business, journalism, religion, human rights, women rights, and so much more.
My friends, as we reflect upon the core values of Ramadan, we also have to look to the future. We admire the dedication that the Sri Lankan people have shown to create a country that is united, harmonious, peaceful, prosperous, and reconciled. A country with equal justice and equal rights for everyone, from all ethnicities, all religions, and both genders. These things are important as they contribute to a happy, prosperous future. And the people of the United States of America will remain committed to this prosperity and happiness for all the people of Sri Lanka, including the Muslim community.
I wish you all a very happy month of Ramadan. Thank you all for coming today, and permit me to wish you Ramadan Kareem.