Donald Trump’s surprising Ramadan message to Muslims

Offering warm greetings on Ramadan and hosting an iftar meal have been standard White House behavior for decades during the major Muslim holiday — but not during the Trump presidency . That appears to be changing.

Ramadan last year featured a White House holiday statement focusing on terrorism, including President Trump’ s comment that the sacred holiday tens of millions observe “ strengthens awareness of our shared obligation to reject violence. ” The White House and the State Department broke with tradition and didn ’ t hold a celebratory iftar ( the ceremonial break – fast meal each sunset during Ramadan ) .

But Tuesday, the White House
released a statement with a markedly different tone, saying Ramadan “ reminds us of the richness Muslims add to the religious tapestry of American life. ” The month-long holiday begins this week.

The White House is also exploring working with the State Department to host an iftar in early June , said Ray Mahmood , a prominent Muslim real estate developer who has long been involved in interfaith diplomacy in the D . C. area .

“ I think they are doing one, from what we ’ ve heard , ” Mahmood said . Asked about the weight of such a ritual event at a time when the country is experiencing a rise in anti – Muslim rhetoric and actions, and as the White House continues in court to press what candidate Trump called the “ Muslim ban, ” Mahmood said these steps are significant .

“ I think they are very important to the Muslim community. At least they feel the president at the White House is doing this , which shows some tolerance and acceptance , ” he said Wednesday .

Deputy White House press secretary Lindsay Walters said Wednesday that the White House had “ no update at this time . ”

Relations between most Muslim Americans and Trump soured during his candidacy after he proposed banning all Muslims from the United States as a security measure against terrorism. In 2016, he began advocating mosque surveillance , saying that “ we have to go and we have to maybe check , respectfully , the mosques. ”

Most Republican voters supported Trump’ s proposals , but polling this month shows that a majority of Americans think Trump’ s policies “ have further disadvantaged Muslims , ” according to research done in February by AP -NORC Center for Public Affairs Research .

Why the moves are happening isn’ t clear, and the White House wouldn’ t comment on that question , but some longtime observers of the way presidents have engaged with Muslim issues noted that last year Stephen K . Bannon was still chief strategist at the White House . Bannon has long sharply criticized Islam in various ways and many considered him hostile to Muslims . Bannon left the White House in August .

“ I ’ d argue there is a sense of urgency that ’ s more acute because anti – Muslim sentiment has become so mainstream . There is a feeling these types of events are needed even more , ” said one of those observers.

The White House is exploring holding a relatively small iftar June 6, with a few dozen people invited , according to some who had heard of the planning. Attendees primarily would be ambassadors from countries with large Muslim populations , and some U . S . Muslim leaders .

Although the Muslim American community is small , its voting power has in recent decades been very concentrated in one party or the other for president . President George W . Bush got 78 percent of the Muslim American vote , but the GOP bond began to nose -dive after the attacks of Sept . 11, 2001, and the Iraq War , and the subsequent rise in anti -Muslim rhetoric . Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton won huge majorities of Muslim Americans.

Even so , for many , these events that may seem to most Americans like simple social happenings can reflect symbolic and even policy and political implications . Even with wide Muslim American voting support for Obama, for example , some Muslims urged boycotts of Obama’ s iftars to protest what they considered improper U . S . surveillance of mosques, and also U . S . support of Israel in its engagement in Gaza .

A former State Department official said that such parties are carried out by protocol officials but that the events ’ existence is driven by policymakers and thus should be viewed through that lens .

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