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:

Consul General Jim Donegan with Muslim guests at a 2013 Eid lunch at his house in Auckland.

Hosting Muslim guests at a 2013 Eid lunch at the Consul General’s Residence.

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 DreamFordson 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.

Click through for source. Asma, former Secretary Clinton, and one or two others at the Colloquium.

Asma, former Secretary Clinton, and other participants in the Colloquium.

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.

Marie at the Iftar lunchwith, among others, MP Sua William Sio and  Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy.

Our DCM Marie (at right) at the Iftar dinner with MP Sua William Sio, Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy, and our good friend the Turkish Ambassador.

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.

Jim with his hosts.

With my hosts in Ponsonby.

Iftar at the South Auckland Mosque.

At the South Auckland Mosque where Dana and colleagues attended Iftar dinner.

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.

- JD

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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.

RAMADAN KAREEM

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Today is the first day of the Islamic month of Ramadan, a time of fasting, prayer, and charity in Muslim communities around the world. It brings with it a sense of new beginning, of promise and possibility, of re-examination and renewal. I have made many Muslim friends here in New Zealand, and I wish them all the best at this special time of year.

In central Los Angeles near my old office, one of the 1900 mosques in the US. Click through for image source.

In central Los Angeles near my old office, one of the 1900 mosques in the US.

Secretary Clinton has remarked that “Ramadan is a time for self-reflection and sharing. American Muslims make valuable contributions to our country every day, and millions will honor this month with acts of service and giving back to their communities.” The same is true here in New Zealand. I know that service, sharing, and personal reflection will be the focus this month for the more than 40,000 Muslims who call Aotearoa home.

Each evening during Ramadan, families gather at sunset for a fast-breaking meal called the Iftar. In many places Iftars take the form of large banquets or festivals. A couple weeks from now I very much look forward to attending my first Iftar in New Zealand, hosted by The Pearl of the Islands Foundation.

For today, August 1, I am pleased to wish all my Muslim friends here and elsewhere Ramadan Kareem.

INTRODUCING FARAH PANDITH

One of the best things about my current job is that I meet interesting and exciting new people on a regular basis. One such new friend is Farah Pandith.

Farah is sworn in by Secretary Clinton, with her family looking on.

Farah is sworn in by Secretary Clinton, with her family looking on.

I met Farah in one of those hop-skip-jump ways only possible in today’s world. About a month ago, I received a tweet about a couple of cyber-diplomats named Alec and Jared who are plowing new ground in the State Department. I Googled them and pulled off the net a New York Times Magazine piece that discussed their work. Intrigued, I emailed them. A Facebook-like maneuver ensued in which we compared notes about people we know who might be of interest to each other. The guys introduced me to Farah, and she and I are now working on dates when she can come to New Zealand.

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Back in April I had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Anwar Ghani and Aliya Danzeisen while visiting Hamilton.  Dr. Ghani is the President of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ), and Ms. Danzeisen is active in the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand.  We share a variety of interests, and Aliya is originally from Brooklyn (New York, not Wellington).

With Ms. Danzeisen and Dr. Ghani in Hamilton.

With Ms. Danzeisen and Dr. Ghani in Hamilton.

I very much enjoyed that conversation and our subsequent interactions.  Earlier this month Dr. Ghani graciously agreed to be interviewed about the Muslim community in New Zealand for my blog, on the occasion of the start of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is a period of fasting, devotion, and reflection.  The month starts with the sighting of the new moon and concludes with the celebration of Eid ul-Fitr at the sighting of the next new moon.  This year Ramadan started on August 12th.

During Ramadan here in New Zealand, as in the U.S. and around the world, Muslims forgo food and drink from dawn until dusk and then break fast with nightly iftar dinners.  Iftar meals are a time of fellowship with friends and family, and in many places are conducted as large banquets or community festivals.

In the U.S., mosques and Islamic centers use the month of Ramadan to reach out to fellow Americans and to build bridges with the community at large.  Dozens of U.S. Embassies, the Secretary of State, and the President (starting in the mid 1990s) host iftar dinners for Muslims and non-Muslims in order to, as Secretary Clinton says, “join together and reflect on our common values, faith, and the gifts of the past year.” continue reading…