President Barack Hussein Obama recently held an Iftar dinner in the state dining room of the White House for the elites of the Muslim community living in the United States. Previously several US presidents had hosted such iftar dinners in the White House, however, this one was very different. Although President Obama was brought up as a Christian, but he was born into a Muslim family and this is the reason why no other American president had any knowledge about Islam like Obama does. That is why the president in his first Ramadan message, to the Muslim community, said: Tonights iftar is a ritual that is carried outat the kitchen tables and in mosques in all the 50 states of America. Islam as we know is part of America like the broader American citizenry. The American Muslim community is one of extraordinary dynamism and diversity. On this occasion we celebrate the Holy month of Ramadan and we also celebrate how much Muslims have enriched the American culture. President Obama honoured a Muslim girl Bilqees Abdul Qadir, a student at the University of Memphis, who had secured more points than any other girl or boy in the history of basketball in Massachusetts. It is interesting to know that the US president is also an avid fan and player of basketball. Being the first US president who is conversant with the teachings of Islam and the psyche of the Islamic world, he feels that the undesirable breach between America and the Muslim world urgently needs to be bridged. Therefore, he decided to visit Saudi Arabia - the place from where Islam began - immediately after taking oath as president. He was received by King Abdullah at a graceful ceremony and was awarded the Kingdoms highest medal of honour. Next, President Obama made his first major foreign policy speech from Cairo, the citadel of the oldest Islamic seat of learning, the University of Al-Azhar. This speech in fact was an attempt to reach out to the Muslim World in order to ease the long held Muslim grievances against the United States. The US media was shocked and surprised over the presidents blunt words of sympathy for the oppressed people of Palestine and for their daily humiliation that comes with the occupation. The American people were shocked at his candid words about the plight of the Palestinians during the 60 years of their statelessness. Once again the Americans were shocked when President Obama started his speech by saying Assalam-o-Elaikum and also ended it by recalling a Quranic message about 'peace and harmony. He declared that America will not turn its back on the legitimate demands of the people of Palestine for dignity and a state of their own. He quoted from the Holy Quran the Ayat which calls for unity among all faiths sent down by Almighty God. This was the first time in US history that a president had quoted a verse from the Holy Quran and put Israeli Jews on the same footing with Palestinian Muslims. He also said that he did not accept the legitimacy of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land across the West Bank. It is quite natural that the strong and influential Jewish lobby and anti-Obama Republican members of Congress and the media under their control have risen to downgrade him. According to a recent survey, the Americans are learning more about Islam, and obviously familiarity with the religion will make people more likely to view Muslims favourably and less likely to believe that Islam promotes violence. The survey also revealed that the Americans still believe that Muslims face far more discrimination than the people belonging to other religions. According to the survey, belief among the Americans that Islam encourages violence has fluctuated since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, and was at its lowest level - quarter of those surveyed - in March after the terror strikes. By 2007, 45 percent of the Americans believed that Islam was more likely than other faiths to encourage violence. This year, that number fell to 38 percent. The group to say that Islam promotes violence was the conservative Republicans, at 55 percent. But that has also dropped to approximately 13 percent since the past two years ago, making them the group with the biggest change of opinion since 2007. The writer is a freelance columnist E-mail: burhanhasan@hotmail.com