Guest blogger Kauthar Umar is a writer, editor and photographer whose work has appeared in YM and Essence. She is a second-generation African-American Muslim and co-producer of New Muslim Cool, which aired on POV in 2009.
On Wednesday, September 7, 2011, I was honored to be, once again, representing New Muslim Cool at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted a reception, in celebration of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr, in which she lauded Muslim athletes.
After a busy day of meetings with Farah Pandith, the Department of State’s special representative to Muslim communities, and leaders from the youth-led global network Generation Change, I attended a pre-screening of Fordson, a documentary about Muslim high school football players and Ramadan in Dearborn, Michigan.
Throughout the film I saw familiar scenes of “All-American” football life and realized how successful this film has been, like New Muslim Cool, in demystifying stereotypes, breaking down barriers and unifying people.
After the screening, I was escorted to the Benjamin Franklin Room, joining ambassadors, imams, Congress members Keith Ellison and Sheila Jackson Lee, Muslim youth leaders and outstanding athletes, to await Secretary Clinton’s address.
As I mingled with NFL offensive tackle Ephraim Salaam and weightlifter Kulsoom Abdullah (the evening’s keynote speakers), USA Fencing team member and 2012 Olympic hopeful Ibtihaj Muhammad and others, I was told how viewing New Muslim Cool on POV helped pave the way for young American Muslims to feel comfortable being American, being Muslim, owning their talents and working towards their goals.
Proud that New Muslim Cool continues to affect people, I strolled through the lobby and the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, viewing the photographic exhibit of former U.S. presidents interacting with Muslims from around the world, re-affirming a lengthy history of America’s respect and connection to Islam, when Secretary Clinton finally emerged to address the crowd.
Among other things, Secretary Clinton spoke about having the freedom in the United States to work toward your goals no matter your religion.
“I’m very proud that in our country, despite the challenges, we do honor the freedom of religion,” said Secretary Clinton.”Too many countries in the world today do not, or they make it difficult and even dangerous for people to try to exercise their religion. So as difficult as it may be, the fact that we get up every day and keep trying is a real tribute to all of us,” she continued.
“So at this time of celebration and reflection, and as we mark the end of Ramadan and the beginning of a new year of renewal and possibility, I hope we can recommit ourselves to the common cause of spreading peace, prosperity, understanding to all the people of the earth.”
Still in awe of the day’s events, I left the walls of the Department of State building that night contemplating Secretary Clinton’s words and feeling blessed for having freedom to be exactly what I am.