For the first time in nearly two decades, Ramadan has come and gone without the White House recognizing it with an Iftar or Eid celebration, as had taken place each year beginning with Clinton, and continued by the Bush and Obama administrations.
Washington Post (h/t Emma) In recent weeks, several former White House staff members told The Post 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 Ramadan.
White House officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Late Saturday afternoon, the White House released a short statement from President Trump and the first lady recognizing the holiday.
In late May, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly said the State Department would break with recent tradition and not host a Ramadan reception, as it had done nearly annually for two decades. On Saturday morning, 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 last 20 years.
It wasn’t until 1996 that the modern-day White House tradition of celebrating Ramadan with a reception or meal started. That February, first lady Hillary Clinton hosted about 150 people for a reception for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month.
The person Clinton credited for teaching her about Islam? Teenage daughter Chelsea, who had the year before studied Islamic history in school, according to reports that year cited by Muslim Voices. Clinton described the reception as a “historic and overdue occasion,” a precedent for Muslim religious celebrations at the White House, the Associated Press reported then.
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. At the 2001 dinner, in mid-November, Bush emphasized that America was fighting against terrorism, not Islam, according to The Washington Post’s coverage.
But it was under President Barack Obama that the annual White House iftar dinner began to cause a bigger stir. “Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been a part of America,” Obama said in his remarks at the 2010 White House iftar. “The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan — making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago.”
“And that’s a reminder, along with the generations of patriotic Muslims in America, that Islam — like so many faiths — is part of our national story,” Obama said. But bloggers seized upon Obama’s comments, insisting that Jefferson had not hosted an iftar, but rather had simply moved the time back as a courtesy. “He didn’t change the menu, he didn’t change anything else,” one blog declared, before calling Obama “disgusting” and accusing him of rewriting history to cast Islam in a favorable light.