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Some 200 diplomats, entrepreneurs, imams, popular media figures, and comedians joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in breaking the fast on September 7th, 2010 at the Department of State in Washington, D.C.  What made this grand event different from last year’s was the inclusion of 70 young Muslims from across the country that the Department identified as “some of the best and innovative Muslim leaders under the age of 30”.

To be hand-picked as one of these 70 change-makers to represent my work with BLISS was a true honor. But to be mentioned in Hillary Clinton’s speech (full text here and video here) as one of the young people “who had already accomplished extraordinary things” by starting “a program to keep Pakistani girls from dropping out of school” was exhilarating!

State Department Photo by Michael Gross

In the wake of the Park 51 controversy and the Quran-burning plan in Florida, and a few days shy of September 11th, it was an opportune time for Muslims from across the country to congregate. Prior to the Iftar itself, Farah Pandith, the Department of State’s Special Representative to Muslim Communities, held a special discussion event called “Generation Change”. Greeting most of us by name, she exuded great excitement at congregating this young group.

“Why the generation under the age of 30?” she writes on the State Department’s blog. “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”.

The panel that opened ‘Generation Change’ included Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, creator of The 99, the first Muslim super-hero comic book, Hana Siddiqi and Kauthar Umar, co-producers of ‘The New Muslim Cool’, and Ahmed Ahmed, Egyptian actor and comedian. This was followed by 25-minute break-out sessions on various topics facing Muslims in America.

A brief mingling on the balcony of the 8th floor of the Department of State was followed by an Azan in the lobby when it was time to break the fast.

View from the 8th floor balcony. Courtesy of Ainee Fatima

The Benjamin Franklin Room. Courtesy of Farah Pandith

Photo Courtesy of Farah Pandith

I was seated next to the Egyptian Ambassador, and across from the Ambassador of Chad, and the Secretary’s Special Envoy on Women’s Issues. One seat away was Azhar Usman, renowned Muslim comedian, and the source of much laughter at our table. Dinner-table conversation ranged from the floods in Pakistan to the Park 51 controversy, from the Middle East peace talks to the Egyptian Ambassador’s first grand-daughter, and I could not help but feel that it was all just a bit surreal.

With Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian Ambassador

The customary picture with Hillary

With the Egyptian Ambassador and Taha Gaya, Executive Director of Pakistan American Leadership Center.

The post-dinner networking was humbling. Every person I spoke to was doing something incredibly amazing — 20-something entrepreneurs, award-winning writes, movie producers, musicians, fashion designers, architects, and activists. Among these are Awista Ayub, founder of an organization dedicated to nurturing Afghan girls through soccer, Qasim Bashir, writer and producer of the upcoming movie ‘Mooz-lum’, Farah Malik, co-Founder of A Peace Treaty, an ethically-produced fashion line that empowers artisans across the developing world, and Melody Moezzi, an award-winning author. The evening wasn’t long enough, as the organizers prodded us to head out –“Let’s move to the lobby, guys!”, followed by “Hey how about we move to the elevator?”

It was a memorable evening, and one that I will not forget for a long time. Above all else, I am thankful for the platform this has provided BLISS, and look forward to nurturing some of the friendships that began across the dinner table.