WASHINGTON – The White House hosted an Iftar dinner for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan on Wednesday evening, the first such event since U.S. President Donald Trump took office.
Some 50 guests attended the event, forming a mixed crowd of administration officials, ambassadors from Muslim countries and Muslim Americans. Simultaneously, dozens of Muslim Americans protested against Trump outside the White House, holding their own alternative Iftar dinner at Lafayette Park.
Among those who attended the dinner were Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser. Trump sat next to Jordanian Ambassador to the U.S. Dina Kawar. Other Arab countries represented by their ambassadors included Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Tunisia and Iraq.
Trump opened the event by thanking "the Muslim community" in the U.S. and praising the state of the U.S. economy. He then said that "Iftar marks coming together of family and friends to celebrate peace" and that he was proud to visit Saudi Arabia last year. The prayer before the meal was led by Imam Dawud Abdul-Aziz Agbere, a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army. He attended the event in military uniform and was praised by Trump.
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Leading Muslim American groups, such as the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, criticized the event, which they said included more foreign dignitaries than American Muslims (the White House did not release a full list of the participants, a common policy for events of this sort.) The demonstrators outside the White House spoke out against Trump's "Muslim ban" and his comments against Muslims during the presidential campaign.
The White House has hosted an annual Iftar dinner ever since the days of the Clinton administration. The tradition was started by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton and continued into the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Last year, Trump chose to break with tradition. Instead of hosting a dinner, the White House issued a statement on the Islamic holiday that focused heavily on the threat of terrorism, noting that recent attacks "steel our resolve to defeat the terrorists and their perverted ideology."
The White House struck a considerably warmer tone last month, when it released a statement from the president declaring "Ramadan Mubarak," a common greeting in Islam for a blessed holiday. The statement praised the Constitution for ensuring Muslims can observe the holiday "unimpeded by government" and did not mention terrorism.
"Ramadan reminds us of the richness Muslims add to the religious tapestry of American life," the statement said.
AP contributed to this report.