President Donald Trump decided against hosting the annual Ramadan feast at the White House this year, effectively ending a two-decade tradition which began in 1996 with First Lady Hillary Clinton.
An iftar, or break-fast, feast, which Muslims celebrate every evening at sundown during the month of Ramadan, was held regularly throughout the administrations of President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.
Historians say that the first-ever White House iftar dinner was held by President Thomas Jefferson in 1805 when he hosted a Muslim Tunisian ambassador and moved dinnertime to sunset to accommodate him.
However, the Trump administration quietly brought the practice to an end this year. In lieu of a feast, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump released a short statement on Saturday wishing Muslims an “Eid Mubarak”, or “Blessed Eid” (the Eid al-Fitr feast marks the end of Ramadan).
“Muslims in the United States joined those around the world during the holy month of Ramadan to focus on acts of faith and charity,” read the statement, which was released to the press but not posted on social media.
“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. Eid Mubarak.”
Reports first surfaced in May that the White House would not be continuing the Ramadan tradition. According to Reuters, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refused a recommendation by the State Department’s office of religion and global affairs to begin planning a reception for prominent American Muslim leaders, diplomats and legislators.
Trump’s administration has taken significant steps towards reducing Muslim immigration to the US, arguing that the move would protect America from terrorism. Several attempts at instituting a travel ban on a number of Muslim-majority countries have been stymied in the court system.
In contrast, Barack Obama’s iftar celebrations were marked by a heavy emphasis on Islam’s place in American history and culture. At Obama’s 2012 iftar event, the White House exhibited Jefferson’s copy of the Koran, which Obama said was a “reminder, along with the generations of patriotic Muslims in America, that Islam — like so many faiths — is part of our national story.”
Obama’s closeness to the Muslim community during his presidency — and his consequent alienation of Israel — angered many conservative Americans who saw the president’s warm attitude towards the Muslim and Arab world as a betrayal of American values and the US-Israel alliance.