Breaking with tradition, the White House under President Donald Trump did not host an iftar dinner, the meal Muslims eat to break their daily fast during Ramadan.
The dinner, which has been often attended by prominent members of the U.S. Muslim community, began in 1996 during former President Bill Clinton’s White House tenure and continued through the subsequent Bush and Obama administrations.
Trump and first lady Melania simply issued a brief statement Saturday that offered “warm greetings” to Muslims celebrating Eid al-Fitr, which marks the close of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting.
On behalf of the American people, Melania and I send our warm greetings to Muslims as they celebrate Eidal-Fitr.
Muslims in the United States joined those around the world during the holy month of Ramadan to focus on acts of faith and charity. Now, as they commemorate Eid with family and friends, they carry on the tradition of helping neighbors 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 honor these values.
Trump’s decision to skip hosting the dinner comes after he released a controversial statement meant to mark the beginning of Ramadan. Many members of the Muslim community condemned the message, which largely focused on terrorism.
“This year, the holiday begins as the world mourns the innocent victims of barbaric terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and Egypt, acts of depravity that are directly contrary to the spirit of Ramadan,” read a White House statement issued in May. “Such acts only steel our resolve to defeat the terrorists and their perverted ideology.”
Trump’s remarks starkly contrast with those by then-President Barack Obama during Ramadan last year. In June 2016, Obama and then-first lady Michelle announced plans to host an Eid celebration in the White House and praised American Muslims for their contributions to the U.S.
“Muslim Americans have been part of our American family since its founding,” the Obamas wrote in a statement roughly five times longer than Trump’s Ramadan message. “We look forward to welcoming Americans from around the country to celebrate the holiday.”
U.S. secretaries of state have also traditionally hosted Iftar dinners since 1999 ― but not this year. Trump’s top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, declined an invitation this year from the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs to host an Eid al-Fitr celebration, according to CNN.
With its break from precedent, the Trump administration shunned an opportunity to reach out to the U.S. Muslim community whose leaders have said they have been ostracized by the president’s rhetoric and his policies, including his proposed travel ban.
Imam Talib Shareef, president of the Nation’s Mosque in Washington, D.C., called Trump’s decision “disappointing.”
“To stop it doesn’t send a good message” Shareef told Newsweek.
Referring to one of Trump’s main pastimes, he added: “You get the chance to go golfing and all this other kind of stuff. How come you don’t have time for a population of your society that needs some assistance?”
The White House message on Eid al-Fitr just hours after Trump was spotted visiting the golf club he owns in Virginia.
This story has been updated with the report of Trump’s visit to his Virginia golf club.