By Randa Darwish
“Ramadan Mubarak!” This is how the US President Donald Trump welcomed his guests on Wednesday, for the first Iftar the President has attended since beginning office.
Unlike Ramadan 2017, Trump decided this year to host an Iftar, the meal eaten by Muslims to break their fasting at sunset. This tradition began in 1996.
For many Muslims in the US, it was a great initiative by the President to declare the holy month and to fix a troubled relationship with Muslims, following the inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric he used during the presidential campaign.
Others were surprised and uncomfortable with Trump’s sudden interest in declaring the Muslim Holy Month. “Has he apologized for saying 'Islam hates us?’ … Has he changed his policies? Has he retracted the (travel) ban? He hasn't changed his rhetoric on anything,” Ziad Ahmed, a student activist told CNN.
The Iftar guest list was not released, but according to the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, around "30 to 40" people were invited to the Iftar. Another White House spokesperson said on Wednesday Trump will host the iftar dinner "for the Washington diplomatic community."
While dozens of American Muslims from civil society were invited to previous years’ Iftar, major Muslim cultural and advocacy activists and organizations claimed they were not invited this year, including the Islamic Society of North America, one of the country’s oldest and largest Muslim organizations and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
According to its spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, she said he didn’t know any mainstream Muslim leader or activist who was invited to the Iftar.
On the other hand, the Council on American-Islamic Relations planned a counter-event and named it: “NOT Trump’s Iftar,” arguiing that the President's presence should not excuse previous Islamophobic rhetoric.
The Consultant of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington tweeted confirming that the Saudi Ambassador attended the event on Wednesday.
Hasan Minhaj, the Muslim American correspondent on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” program took the chance to slam back at Trump’s Iftar which he described as: “Trump and Ramadan? That’s like Mel Gibson hosting a passover seder.”
Images released after the event showed Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, during the event on the same table with several Arab ambassadors igniting controversy, especially as Kushner is believed to play a vital role in drawing Trump’s policy toward the Middle East and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in particular.
Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters seemed to be mad at him for hosting “terrorists” in the White House instead of “throwing them outside America”.
Trump’s invitation is believed to come at a time while the Supreme Court considers legal challenges to Trump's travel ban which targets Muslim countries trying to makeup relations with Muslims in the US.
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