Because my travel schedule has been so extensive over the past few months, I have fallen behind in blogging about current events. Even though I am now a few weeks late, I’d like to acknowledge the Islamic month of Ramadan and run a guest post drafted by my Consul General about our Mission’s engagement with Muslim communities in New Zealand. I thought I’d start, though, by sharing remarks made earlier this month by Secretary Kerry at an Iftar dinner roundtable at Fatimah Jinnah Women’s University in Rawalpindi, Pakistan:
Now, I yield to Jim Donegan, our Consul General in Auckland:
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Mission New Zealand Marks Ramadan
By Jim Donegan
Here at the U.S. Embassy and Consulate General we have developed a cultural engagement program to connect with New Zealand’s many faith communities, which are motivated, organized, and responsive agents for good work across a broad range of social issues. For example, one of the most productive of our efforts this year was a large anti-human trafficking conference that we organized and sponsored in partnership with the Salvation Army.
The same dynamic and alignment of values-based interests exists with the growing Muslim community in New Zealand. As Consul General, I am fortunate to have been involved in a number of enjoyable and touching engagements with local Muslim groups. I’ll discuss just a few examples of the many high-level engagements and our offices’ most recent day-to-day interaction with Muslim Kiwis:
We have launched a few programs and traditions specifically focused on our Muslim friends. For example, we have started a new tradition of holding an Eid lunch at the Consul General’s Residence in Auckland during Ramadan. We also bring to New Zealand officials of particular interest to faith communities. For example, Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith has visited communities in Auckland, Hamilton, and Wellington several times, visiting Muslim schools and keynoting the NZ Department of Ethnic Affairs’ EthnicA Conference.
We have provided educational and cultural grants such as one to the Waikato Muslim Association to help screen in Hamilton the full-length American film Fordson: Faith Fasting, Football, and the American Dream. Fordson is an award-winning documentary which follows an Arab-American high school football team from a working-class Detroit suburb as they practice for a big game during Ramadan. It provides great insight into American diversity and culture and how faith and secular society co-exist.
Because of the Ambassador’s strong focus on people-to-people exchanges, we have successfully nominated Kiwi Muslims for USG-sponsored programs. For example, we sent Muslimah Asma Bashir, the Senior Ethnic Affairs Advisor at New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs, to the Secretary of State’s Women in Public Service Project Colloquium. Asma is currently using some of the lessons she learned during the project to support emerging female leaders (of every or no religion) with training, mentoring, and networking opportunities.
Also, because of the Ambassador’s focus on whole-of-society inclusion, members of Muslim and other faith communities are now fully integrated into the Mission’s events, mailing lists, and programs, including our festive Fourth of July celebrations and our social media and other digital activities. Just one example is an interview that the Ambassador conducted with Dr. Anwar Ghani, President of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, about the meaning and traditions of Ramadan.
Recently our Deputy Chief of Mission Marie Damour attended the 5th annual Intercultural Dialogue Dinner co-hosted by the New Zealand-Turkey Parliamentary Friends Association and the Pearl of the Islands Foundation. The Ambassador attended the prior 3 dinners but unfortunately had a travel conflict this year.
Held at the New Zealand Parliament, this particular Iftar dinner hosted guests such as local politicians, members of the Wellington diplomatic corps, religious leaders from various faiths, and other dignitaries, including New Zealand’s new Race Relations Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy. Because of the Foundation’s origins, the evening was Turkish in character, with two dervish dancers and traditional Turkish cuisine to break the Ramadan fast.
In Auckland, our Consul Dana Deree participated in an Iftar dinner hosted by the president of the South Auckland Muslim Association at a local mosque. Dana and the other Consulate General staff who attended report that they thoroughly enjoyed the evening and learned much about Muslim cultures over the course of the event.
At the invitation of the Ponsonby Mosque Committee in Auckland, I attended a dinner at the Ponsonby Mosque to commemorate the breaking of the fast in the final weekend of Ramadan. Hosted by the mosque’s president, Firoz Patel, I engaged in discussions with attendees to strengthen the already close relationship between the Muslim community and the U.S. Consulate General. Members of the mosque were interested in my previous outreach activities with Muslims while I was stationed in the Middle East and elsewhere.
I found particularly interesting and useful a discussion with mosque elders about the youth and non-Muslim outreach initiatives in which they are currently engaged. I was interested to hear them explain the evolution of New Zealand Muslim society and its significant growth over the past 20 years, as evidenced by the increasing number of mosques around the country.
I very much look forward to continuing to engage with Muslim and other faith communities here in New Zealand. As a New York native, I have always thought it a great privilege to live in a thriving, vibrant, multicultural, democratic society. Diversity isn’t a statistic or buzz word; it’s a way of thinking and acting, embedded in the fabric of society. That is what has always made America strong and innovative. In my current post, I’m enjoying learning about New Zealand society and seeing the transformation here.
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Thanks, Jim, for the report. A few weeks ago I wished my Muslim tweeps Ramadan Mubarak. Since that particular greeting would now be belated, I’ll say instead, Kul ‘am wa enta bi-khair. May every year find you in good health.