February 11, 2016
Assalaamu alaykum to all of you. It is a great honor and privilege for me to come here to learn not only about the Grand Mosque, but also to learn about the 1200 years of history, of rich history of Islam in Sri Lanka. Islam is a religion that has brought great culture and great understanding to the world. It has brought its views and its message to many different parts of the world: to Southeast Asia, to South Asia to the Middle East, to Africa, to many other places and also to the United States of America.
My President was very recently at a mosque in Baltimore, Maryland. While he was at that mosque, President Obama talked at length about the great history of religious freedom in the United States and how our founding fathers – Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington – believed in religious freedom. They enshrined it in the constitution of the United States.
To this day, the American people have always believed that all religions should have freedom to worship, and all people should have freedom of conscience, whatever they believe. That is a bedrock and fundamental principle of the American people. So it’s always a great privilege for me and gives me great delight and pleasure to be able to learn more about the wonderful religious diversity of Sri Lanka and of the Sri Lankan people.
When Americans look at Sri Lanka, they see the great diversity of the Sri Lankan people and see the religions, the ethnicity, the languages and the cultures. Americans see what is happening here with the harmony between the people and they realize that it is in the diversity of places like Sri Lanka and the United States that we derive our strength.
As Americans, we believe that having Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and everyone else living together in harmony makes us a stronger country. Our national motto is E Pluribus Unum : Out of Many, One. Through our diversity and through having people from all over the world come and live in America – and by cherishing the beliefs, values, strengths, and ideas that they bring – it makes us a stronger country.
I have had the privilege to meet with the Minister, the Imam, and the trustees of the Grand Mosque. It is also a privilege to learn about the great history of Islam in Sri Lanka, the more than 1000 years of history of Islam in Sri Lanka. I realize that the Muslim community – like the Buddhist, Christian, and Hindu communities – can contribute greatly to the achievement of a golden vision of a Sri Lanka that is reconciled, unified, peaceful, and prosperous. Where every Sri Lankan – irrespective of their race, religion or ethnicity – can live their life to their full potential enjoying democratic freedoms and human rights.