Tuesday 12 December 2017

Donald Trump ends decades-long White House tradition of celebrating Ramadan with iftar dinner

US President Donald Trump in the White House in Washington. Photo: AFP
US President Donald Trump in the White House in Washington. Photo: AFP

Rachel Revesz

Donald Trump’s government has not held an iftar dinner for the end of Ramadan, breaking a Muslim tradition held at the White House for more than two centuries.

The iftar dinner occurs at sunset at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islam lunar calendar and a time of prayer, reflection and fasting.

White House officials reportedly spend months planning the event, which has been held every year under the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, but 2017 took a different path.

The White House issued a statement on late Saturday evening.

"Muslims in the United States joined those around the world during the holy month of Ramadan to focus on acts of faith and charity," the statement read.

"Now, as they commemorate Eid with family and friends, they carry on the tradition of helping neighbours and breaking bread with people from all walks of life.

"During this holiday, we are reminded of the importance of mercy, compassion, and goodwill.  With Muslims around the world, the United States renews our commitment to honour these values. Eid Mubarak."

Earlier this year Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly said the Government would not host the dinner.

He also issued a statement on Saturday, which read, "This holiday marks the culmination of Ramadan, a month in which many experience meaning and inspiration in acts of fasting, prayer, and charity.

"This day offers an opportunity to reflect on our shared commitment to building peaceful and prosperous communities. Eid Mubarak."

The brief statements provide a stark contrast to the holiday message issued by former President Barack Obama, who warned against the "rise in attacks against Muslim Americans".

"Muslim Americans have been part of our American family since its founding," he added.

Former President Thomas Jefferson, a staunch advocate of religious freedom, famously hosted a White House iftar in December 1805 in honour of Tunisian ambassador Sidi Soliman Mellimelli during the American conflict with what were known as the Barbary States.

"Dinner will be on the table precisely at sun-set — " the invitation read. "The favour of an answer is asked."

John Quincy Adams noted in his diaries that the dinner was served late in the evening as it was "in the midst of Ramadan".

The nature of the dinner has divided opinion over the last two centuries, with far-right critics insisting the dinner was only moved back as a "courtesy" and that the menu was not changed for the guests.

Regardless of what is served at the meal, anyone present at the dinner who is breaking their fast means an iftar is being held.

The White House tradition started with earnest in 1996, when First Lady Hillary Clinton hosted 150 people after learning more about the ritual from her daughter Chelsea, who had reportedly studied Islamic history in school, as reported by Muslim Voices.

President George W Bush hosted the dinner every year for his two terms, including just after the 9/11 attacks. He said at the dinner that the fight was against terrorism, not Islam, as reported The Washington Post at the time.

American Muslims might have been hoping for the dinner to be held at the White House this year as a symbol of unity after a spike in hate crimes against the community, the highest level since 2001.

Mr Trump has been strongly criticised for his proposal in December 2015 to ban Muslims from entering the US and also for his executive order as President to temporarily ban all immigration and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. The order, later revised, was knocked down by federal courts.

Independent News Service

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