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Trump Skips Ramadan Feast, Breaking 20-Year White House Tradition

The first White House iftar took place in 1805.

by Alex Swerdloff
Jun 26 2017, 4:38pm

Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As Canadians watched their Prime Minister march in Toronto's Pride parade while wearing a pair of colorful Eid-themed socks that bore the greeting "Eid Mubarak," Americans watched as Donald Trump opted not to participate in the symbolic gesture toward the Muslim holiday that has taken place in the White House for the past two decades.

Forgoing a tradition that has been uninterrupted for nearly 20 years by both Republican and Democratic administrations, President Trump opted to forgo an iftar dinner at the White House during Ramadan. Instead, the White House released a brief written statement late Saturday afternoon. Iftar is, of course, the evening meal that Muslims eat at sundown, ending their daily fast during the month-long period 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," the White House statement read. "Now, as they commemorate Eid with family and friends, they carry on the tradition of helping neighbours 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."

The tradition of a White House iftar has roots as far back as 1805, when President Thomas Jefferson hosted an iftar for Tunisian ambassador Sidi Soliman Mellimelli during the Barbary Wars. As First Lady, Hillary Clinton brought back the event in 1996 by hosting a dinner reception attended by roughly 150 people for Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan. Since being resurrected, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama held iftar dinners at the White House every year of their presidencies.

READ MORE: What It's Like to Work in a Restaurant and Fast During Ramadan

Back in May, Reuters reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had refused a recommendation by the State Department's Office of Religion and Global Affairs to host a dinner reception to mark Eid al-Fitr. At the time, a State Department spokesperson told Reuters it was "still exploring possible options for observance of Eid al-Fitr… US ambassadors are encouraged to celebrate Ramadan through a variety of activities, which are held annually at missions around the world." In the end, Tillerson ended up simply sending out a brief statement this Saturday.

"It is disappointing because that's been a good tradition," Imam Talib Shareef of the Nation's Mosque in Washington, DC, told Newsweek. "To stop it doesn't send a good message. You get the chance to go golfing and all this other kind of stuff. How come you don't have time for a population of your society that needs some assistance? The message that it sends is that we're not that important."

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