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The Trump White House Ramadan Celebration That Wasn’t
By Nihad Awad
[Nihad Awad is national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
President Donald Trump just ended the almost 20-year White House tradition of marking the Islamic month-long fast of Ramadan by not hosting a celebratory “iftar” (fast-breaking) dinner. This year also marks the first time since 1999 that the State Department failed to officially host a Ramadan dinner. Such a break in American tradition and values reflects the Trump administration’s outright hostility toward the American Muslim community and its discomfort in acknowledging that Muslims are a part of our nation.
The President’s May 26 statement on Ramadan was equally disturbing for the nation’s Muslim community, because of its inability to connect with, or even mention, “American Muslims.” Instead, it was addressed to “all Muslims” and failed to recognize the important contributions American Muslims make to our nation’s different sectors and fields in our society, from academia, to medicine, to engineering, to the arts, sports, politics, and more.
Failing to acknowledge these contributions devalues the works of famed Americans Muslims like Fazlur Rahman Khan, who designed the Sears Tower and 100-story John Hancock Center; American Olympian athletes like Muhammad Ali and Ibtihaj Muhammad; elected officials like Minnesota state representative Ilhan Omar and Congressmen Keith Ellison and Andre Carson; entertainers like David Chappell and Dean Obeidallah; hair and spa care entrepreneur Farouk Shami and Chobani Greek Yogurt founder, Chairman and CEO Hamsi Ulukaya; and the innumerable Muslim doctors that make up 10 percent of the physicians in the United States. That is just the shortest of what is a very long list of contributors.
Trump’s statement also used the Islamic holy month as an opportunity to aggressively posture -- “America will always stand with our partners against terrorism and the ideology that fuels it” -- further securitizing this administration’s perception of Muslims, including American Muslims, and how it seeks to engage them and on what terms.
Admittedly the White House’s June 24 statement celebrating Eid ul-Fitr, or “feast of fast-breaking” holiday, which marks the end of Ramadan, was an actually warm statement. However, it’s hard for the average Muslim reader to not believe this is the real sentiment of a president who once stated he thinks "Islam hates us," and called for a "total and complete shutdown" of the entry of Muslims to the United States.
It really should not surprise anyone that Trump decided to cancel this year’s White House Ramadan celebration, particularly given that a number of individuals serving in his administration have a history of problematic and misleading statements about Islam and Muslims.
It is not as though any of his trusted Islamophobic advisors like Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller or Sebastian Gorka would have pushed the president to embrace the American Muslim community or host festive activities surrounding the Islamic holiday.
With the most white and male cabinet since Ronald Reagan, American Muslims by and large have been shut out from the privilege of serving or advising the executive branch.
President Trump is not only out of touch with the American Muslims, his administration’s unconstitutional policies, bigoted appointees and hateful rhetoric seeks to turn our minority community into second class citizens.
The “Muslim ban” that Trump sought to enforce would have restricted the movement of Muslims with credible claims of close familial ties in the U.S. Muslim community or bona fide relationships with national institutions.
American Muslim travelers are now unconstitutionally questioned about their faith and beliefs while traveling by Customs and Border Protection, a major departure from our nation’s protected values of religious freedom and equal treatment.
American Muslims now openly question how Trump’s campaign trail support for increased surveillance against our houses of worship and the possibly a Muslim registry will shape current or future FBI policies of domestically monitoring mosques and expanding the terrorist watch list.
The president’s silence following attacks against Muslims and their houses of worship is not only noticed by Muslims, but also by those in White Supremacist circles who feel emboldened by his presidency’s hostility toward and mistrust of Muslims.
Thankfully, American Muslims are not alone and every day local mosques, state interfaith groups, civil rights coalitions, and national organizations like mine, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), continue to receive growing support and volunteers. We are not pushing back against this increasing tide of hate alone, Americans are responding to the call to action and are more united than ever in rejecting hate.
In truth, many of Muslim leaders and activists would have been placed under an incredibly uncomfortable circumstance of having to choose whether they would even RSVP to a Trump hosted White House iftar.
Some would have accepted the invitation under the belief that you must continue to engage with elected officials to deliver a message on behalf of the community -- even at the risk of facing some backlash from the grassroots. Others would not have accepted such an invitation on the principle of not engaging with a president that has fostered anti-Muslim sentiment let alone failed to clearly and strongly condemn the rise in Islamophobic bigotry and acts of deadly violence.
Either way, the Trump presidency’s break with White House tradition of celebrating Ramadan is just part of a bigger story of how this administration fails to represent American values of religious inclusion and respect for diversity.