Trump shuns White House Eid if­tar meal

Marked since 1805 by US pres­i­dents

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

IN THE early days of De­cem­ber 1805, a hand­ful of prom­i­nent politi­cians re­ceived for­mal in­vi­ta­tions to join pres­i­dent Thomas Jef­fer­son for a White House din­ner.

Such en­treaties were not un­com­mon – Jef­fer­son fre­quently hosted law­mak­ers for po­lit­i­cal work­ing din­ners at the White House.

But this gath­er­ing, on De­cem­ber 9, would be slightly dif­fer­ent. “Din­ner will be on the table pre­cisely at sun­set”, the in­vi­ta­tions read.

The oc­ca­sion was the pres­ence of a Tu­nisian en­voy to the US, Sidi Soli­man Mel­limelli, who had ar­rived in the coun­try just the week be­fore.

And the rea­son for the din­ner’s later-than-usual start was Mel­limelli’s ob­ser­vance of Ra­madaan, a holy month for Mus­lims in which ob­servers fast be­tween dawn and dusk, only eat­ing when break­ing their fast af­ter sun­set with a meal, re­ferred to as an if­tar.

His­to­ri­ans have cited the meal as the first time an if­tar took place in the White House – and it has been ref­er­enced in re­cent White House cel­e­bra­tions of Ra­madaan as an em­bod­i­ment of the Found­ing Fa­ther’s re­spect for re­li­gious free­dom.

How­ever, the mod­ern-day White House tra­di­tion of mark­ing Ra­madaan with an if­tar din­ner or Eid celebration has come to an end.

For the first time in nearly two decades, Ra­madaan has come and gone with­out the White House recog­nis­ing it with an if­tar, or cel­e­brat­ing the hol­i­day Eid al-Fitr which marks the end of the holy month, as had taken place each year un­der the Clin­ton, Bush and Obama ad­min­is­tra­tions.

In re­cent weeks, sev­eral for­mer White House staff mem­bers said they would usu­ally be­gin plan­ning an if­tar “months in ad­vance” and didn’t an­tic­i­pate the Trump White House could pull some­thing off be­fore the end of Ra­madaan.

White House of­fi­cials did not re­spond to re­peated re­quests for com­ment. Late on Satur­day, the day that Ra­madaan was set to end, the White House re­leased a short state­ment from Pres­i­dent Trump and the first lady recog­nis­ing the hol­i­day.

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

“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.”

In late May, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son re­port­edly said the State Depart­ment would break with re­cent tra­di­tion and not host a Ra­madaan re­cep­tion, as it had done nearly an­nu­ally for two decades.

On Satur­day, Tiller­son also re­leased a brief state­ment send­ing “best wishes to all Mus­lims cel­e­brat­ing Eid al-Fitr”.

Tiller­son’s and Trump’s brief re­marks were in stark con­trast to Obama, who re­leased a lengthy state­ment for the hol­i­day last year, as well as to cer­e­monies hosted at the White House for the past 20 years.

The mod­ern-day White House tra­di­tion of cel­e­brat­ing Ra­madaan with a re­cep­tion or meal started in 1996, when first lady Hil­lary Clin­ton hosted about 150 peo­ple for a re­cep­tion for Eid al-Fitr, the “feast of the break­ing of the fast”.

Clin­ton de­scribed the re­cep­tion as a “his­toric and over­due oc­ca­sion”, a prece­dent for Mus­lim re­li­gious cel­e­bra­tions at the White House. The tra­di­tion con­tin­ued un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush, who hosted an if­tar din­ner every year of his two terms in of­fice in­clud­ing shortly af­ter the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks, when anger to­ward Mus­lim Amer­i­cans was spik­ing.

Bush said his mes­sage for the din­ner would be: “We’re a na­tion of many faiths.” Asked if the sen­ti­ment was sym­bolic, he im­me­di­ately replied: “No – it’s real.”

But it was un­der Obama that the an­nual White House if­tar din­ner be­gan to cause a big­ger stir – in part be­cause the pres­i­dent res­ur­rected the story of Jef­fer­son’s 1805 din­ner with Mel­limelli. “Ra­madaan is a re­minder that Is­lam has al­ways been a part of Amer­ica,” Obama said at the 2010 White House if­tar.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

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