About the Author: James P. Zumwalt serves as Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan.
Many of you have seen and heard President Obama’s speech in Cairo about America’s renewed commitment to seek common ground with the Muslim world. I was proud and happy to hear these words, because I share the President’s view that religion can bring people together.
On Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo invited ambassadors from countries with major Muslim populations, Japanese politicians, scholars, and journalists to gather over lunch and view the President’s speech. We discussed ways to strengthen our ties to Muslims in Japan. I felt excitement about this important dialogue, which is very much a tradition at our embassy in Tokyo. For example, over the past four years, the embassy has hosted an Iftar celebration during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan for Muslim ambassadors in Japan. As a gesture of appreciation, last year these same ambassadors hosted a Christmas party for the U.S. embassy staff.
In his speech, President Obama highlighted the importance of interfaith dialogue, such as service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims and Jews as well as Buddhists, Hindus, and people of many other faiths.
Personally, I know the importance of religious freedom. My wife Ann is a Buddhist. Before we married, we attended the Buddhist temple in Washington, DC, so I could learn about Buddhism. She joined me in counseling sessions on marriage with a Protestant minister. We held our wedding ceremony at the Nishi Honganji Buddhist temple in Los Angeles, a special place for my wife, because her uncle had been a priest at the temple, and her brother had been married there. We knew that for our relationship – indeed, for any relationship – to succeed, mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation would be essential.
I’m very interested to hear your thoughts about the President’s speech.