White House skips Ramadan celebration, breaking with 20 years of tradition

The move comes amid troubling comments about Islam from President Donald Trump and his advisers.

Former President George W. Bush speaks during an iftar dinner in the State Dinning Room of the White House, in this Sept. 17, 2008, file photo. CREDIT: Lawrence Jackson/AP

For the first time in twenty years, the White House has not held a celebration to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended at sunset on Saturday.

President Donald Trump did issue official statements for Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, a festival that marks the end of the month-long daytime fast. Even those statements, however, lingered on terrorists and terrorism that many felt held all Muslims responsible for the actions of a few.

“I reiterate my message delivered in Riyadh: America will always stand with our partners against terrorism and the ideology that fuels it,” the Ramadan statement read, in part. “During this month of Ramadan, let us be resolved to spare no measure so that we may ensure that future generations will be free of this scourge and able to worship and commune in peace.”

The Eid statement, while brief, was more conciliatory, commemorating a holiday with Muslims “carry on the tradition of helping neighbors and breaking bread with people from all walks of life.”

Unlike other recent administrations, however, the White House did not hold a dinner or reception to mark either holiday — despite Trump telling ABC News last year that he’d be fine with continuing the Ramadan dinner tradition.

“It’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought to,” then-candidate Trump said, “but it wouldn’t bother me.”

Trump’s disturbing Ramadan message to Muslims

The first iftar dinner at the White House was in 1805, when President Thomas Jefferson hosted Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, Tunisia’s envoy to the United States, who was observing the Ramadan fast, and other dignitaries, according to The Washington Post.

But formal celebrations didn’t begin until 1996, under the Clinton administration, The Post said. They’ve continued every year since.

Trump and his family—including daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who are Jewish—also skipped this year’s White House seder during the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson similarly declined to hold an iftar dinner or Eid celebration at the State Department this year, breaking with an annual tradition first established in 1998 under former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, according to Reuters.

“On behalf of the U.S. Department of State, best wishes to all Muslims celebrating Eid al-Fitr,” Tillerson said in a brief statement released Sunday. “This holiday marks the culmination of Ramadan, a month in which many experience meaning and inspiration in acts of fasting, prayer, and charity.”

During his 2016 campaign, Trump promised to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country, floated the idea of a national Muslim registry, and said he would consider using the federal government to close mosques.

Since then, Trump’s Muslim ban has materialized, albeit in altered form. But the administration has also softened some of its rhetoric when dealing with Muslims allies like Saudi Arabia.

Still many Muslim Americans are understandably worried about a president who took such extreme anti-Islam stances as a candidate and has since sought to pass them into policy. And there’s been a dramatic spike in hate crimes against Muslims and other minorities since Trump’s election in November, with some Trump supporters moving his rhetoric into violent action.

Tracking the explosion of hate in Trump’s America

That sense that the United States might be at war with Islam or with Muslims, including its own Muslim citizens, is precisely what former President George W. Bush sought to dispel at an iftar dinner at the White House just weeks after 9/11, according to The Post.

“Ramadan and the upcoming holiday season are a good time for people of different faiths to learn more about each other,” Bush said. “And the more we learn, the more we find that many commitments are broadly shared.


White House skips Ramadan celebration, breaking with 20 years of tradition was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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