Saturday marked the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, where Muslims fast from sun up to sundown.
Since the Clinton administration, various government agencies including the White House have held iftar dinners — the meal Muslims consume in the evening following their fast — to honor Muslim Americans and the global Muslim public.
The Trump administration appears to be breaking that tradition, at least partially.
Reuters reported on Monday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had officially declined a request from the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs to host a Ramadan event, “breaking with a bipartisan tradition in place with few exceptions for nearly 20 years.” Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright held the first State Department iftar in 1999.
Meanwhile, the White House is staying mum on whether it will host its own iftar event — a tradition that has existed since First Lady Hillary Clinton hosted a White House Ramadan celebration in 1996. It did not respond to requests for comment from The Intercept.
We talked to numerous individuals who had been invited and attended iftars in the past and asked them if they had received an invitation to the White House this year.
“I have not, and I don’t anticipate receiving one — especially given that Rex Tillerson broke the tradition of having a State Department Ramadan event as well,” Ziad Ahmed, a Muslim-American activist who attended the White House iftar in 2015 told The Intercept.
“No,” Rabiah Ahmed, director of Media & Public Affairs at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) told The Intercept. Three individuals affiliated with MPAC attended the White House iftar in 2015.
Additionally, a spokesperson for Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress and a staple of White House iftars in the past, confirmed that the office had not received an invitation.
However, we did find one agency that will be continuing the tradition. The Pentagon confirmed to The Intercept that it will be hosting an iftar dinner in mid-June.
“The IFTAR dinner is scheduled for 15 June,” Lt. Col. Eric D. Badger of the Pentagon’s Press Operations wrote to us.
The Pentagon has been holding its iftar dinner for the past 18 years, and secretaries of defense typically use the events to honor Muslim Americans who served in the armed forces.
For instance, at last year’s iftar, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter invited Sheikh Nazeem Abdul Karriem, a Muslim American veteran who fought for the United States during the second world war, helping storm the beaches at Normandy.
Almost 4,000 American Muslims serve in the U.S. military, and the Department of Defense relies on close cooperation with numerous Muslim-majority countries as part of its daily operations. Taking the small step to thank these people appears to be one that the Pentagon is willing to take.