About the Author: Farah Pandith is the Special Representative to Muslim Communities.
Last night, the Secretary hosted the State Department's annual Iftar to commemorate the breaking of the day's fast. The Holy Month of Ramadan is a time when Muslims fast from sun up to sun down, and it is period of deep reflection and prayer but also a time to do more than usual for your community.
The 8th floor of the Department of State was buzzing when I arrived. Many folks were out on the balcony enjoying the view and waiting to break their fast. This year's Iftar included a special emphasis on the young generation of American Muslims. Why the generation under the age of 30? Over half of the nearly 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet are under the age of 35, and we want to do more to build stronger long terms partnerships with these young people. Our embassies around the world are focusing on engagement with this young generation of Muslims as well; whether in Muslim-majority countries, or nations where Muslims are a minority, we are finding ways to build partnerships and share ideas.
Prior to the Secretary's Iftar, I hosted a special event for 75 young American Muslim change makers -- a slice of America that I call "Generation Change" -- young, vibrant, idea-filled "doers". These Americans are poets, entrepreneurs, technology gurus, comedians, musicians, grassroots leaders, activists, and designers, to name a few. They are out-of-the box thinkers and agents of change both domestically and internationally. After several guest speakers charged with setting the mood -- Naif Al Mutawa, the creator of The 99 comic books; Herro Mustafa, subject of a film called American Herro; the co-producers of New Muslim Cool, Hana Siddiqi and Kauthar Umar; and comedian Ahmed Ahmed -- the group broke into three separate "think tanks" to discuss issues of religion, culture, identity, and global affairs. Hearing their insightful discussions, I was once again struck by the passion and potential of these young leaders.
Someone asked me where the idea came from to do this "Generation Change" event, and I told them about the Secretary's commitment to reaching out to young people all over the world. In a video message created specifically for these young people and played at the "Generation Change” event, the Secretary encouraged them to become their generation's leaders and stated her belief in their potential to change and shape the world in a positive way.
Notably, many of these youths are using technology to move ideas forward. Their ability to amplify the power of traditional community organizing with new media will allow them to lift their voices beyond their own geographic or cultural boundaries, and their ripple effect will make waves. I hear from young people in America and young people around the world that these networks of change makers can be a launching pad for action.
As we went upstairs to the Iftar, many of these young agents of change were talking to each other about how to keep the momentum going, and I was thrilled to see how excited they were about connecting with each other. Some of them were seated at the Secretary's table and talked to her about their work and passions.
After the call to prayer and the breaking of the fast, the Secretary spoke to these young leaders and other Iftar guests about America's commitment to values going back to the very beginning of our nation, recalling a quote from George Washington. Looking around the room, she said the "real story of Islam in American can be found in this room and rooms across America."
It was a great day, and I feel honored to have met such a tremendous group of amazing young people. I can't wait to see what they will do going forward.