President Trump strikes a warmer tone towards Muslim Americans while hosting White House iftar dinner
Donald Trump hosted his first iftar dinner as president on Wednesday, marking the traditional Ramadan fast-breaking meal with Muslim invitees at the White House.
The president wished Muslims around the world a "Ramadan Mubarak" in the overture that stunned the majority of his critics and supporters in the Muslim community after he markedly skipped hosting the annual dinner last year.
Recognizing prominent members of the Muslim community at home and abroad, Trump offered a message of unity while speaking at the iftar dinner, which breaks the daylong fast during Ramadan. Addressing an intimate audience that included ambassadors from multiple nations with a Muslim majority, such as Kuwait, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia as well as Cabinet members, he said: "In gathering together this evening, we honor a sacred tradition of one of the world's great religions."
Trump, who has frequently engaged in inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric, defied recent custom by not holding a similar event during his first year in office.
His words were a far cry from the usual incendiary speeches he gave during his presidential campaign when he called for a "complete and total shutdown" of Muslims entering the country. During an interview with CNN, Trump had also asserted, "I think Islam hates us."
But yesterday, the president spoke of "the renewed bonds of friendship and cooperation" forged with "valued partners" from across the Middle East and said Iftars "mark the coming together of families and friends to celebrate a timeless message of peace, clarity, and love. There is great love," according to Fox News.
Recounting his visit to Saudi Arabia, his first foreign trip as president, was "one of the great two days of my life."
"Only by working together can we achieve a future of security and prosperity for all," he said.
Hundreds of millions of devout Muslims observe the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which is slated to end on June 14 this year. From sunrise onwards, they abstain from food and drink, breaking their fast at sunset.
There were more than 50 guests. At the head table, Trump sat with Saudi Ambassador Prince Khalid Ben Salman, and Jordanian Ambassador Dina Kawar. Ambassadors were invited from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Qatar, Bahrain, Morocco, Algeria, and Libya.
"To each of you and to the Muslims around the world: Ramadan Mubarak," Trump said.
"Tonight, we give thanks for the renewed bonds of friendship and cooperation we have forged with our valued partners from all across the Middle East," he said.
Many critics have slammed Trump for his travel ban, saying that it targets some Muslim-majority countries rather unfairly. While the Supreme Court is considering legal challenges to the proposed ban, a ruling is expected by the end of this month.
That being said, numerous Muslim civil rights groups denounced his gesture, organizing a "NOT Trump's Iftar" protest at a park across from the White House. These groups claim that due to Trump's unabashed narrative, there is an increase in discrimination and bullying against Muslims residing in the United States.
"We think it's the height of hypocrisy for Donald Trump to ban Muslims with one hand and then invite lead diplomats into the White House and breakfast with them," said Bilal Askaryar, a human rights activist, advocate for Muslims, the LGBTQ community, immigrants and refugees, and the intersections between them.
"It's hypocritical and his actions with the Muslim ban and spreading hate speech about Muslims is un-American and un-presidential."
Iftar dinners have been a regular feature on the White House calendar, along with prayer breakfasts, Passover Seders, and similar events.
Several American Muslim groups said they would not participate in Wednesday's iftar. The CEO of Islamic Relief USA, a humanitarian and advocacy organization, Sharif Aly, said that his group was pleased to see that the White House had resumed the tradition. He said that iftar is "an event that should be hosted every year, just like the Easter Egg Roll, the Passover Seder and Christmas Open House."
However, he urged the Trump administration to "actively engage on issues impacting our beneficiaries," such as the proposed cuts to social welfare programs and the infamous travel ban.
Having said that, last month, the White House struck a significantly warmer tone by releasing a statement from the commander in chief wishing "Ramadan Mubarak," which means "a blessed holiday" in Islam. In the said statement, the president upheld the constitution, praising it for ensuring that followers of the faith can observe the holiday "unimpeded by government."
"Ramadan reminds us of the richness Muslims add to the religious tapestry of American life," the statement said.
Currently, the proposed travel ban applies to travelers from five countries with a majority of Muslim population, namely Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, and Iran. Interestingly, the ban also applies to some Venezuelan government officials and their families and also to travelers from North Korea.
The renewed stance taken by President Trump can be seen as a result of Prince Mohammad Bin Salman's recent visit to the United States, where the two leaders got along very well with each other.
With inputs from AFP