Why a Former White House Iftar Attendee Organized a Counter Iftar
Ramadan is a spiritual month for the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims. It is a time to practice self discipline and increase charity as we fast from sunrise to sunset. At the end of the day, we gather with family and friends to break our fast with a meal called an iftar.
For nearly the last two decades, the President has honored this tradition through the annual White House Iftar, originally dating from President Jefferson’s time. I attended the last iftar held in 2015 by President Obama, while acknowledging that it had become a controversial event within the Muslim community. I decided to do so because although I was critical of some of Obama’s policies toward Muslims inside and outside the U.S., I also understood the value of speaking truth to power if those in positions to create change were willing to listen. I did believe that was the case, and had seen examples of such, in the Obama administration.
For the current administration, however, nothing could be further from the truth. President Trump closed all hope of dialogue when he campaigned on an Islamophobic platform and, immediately upon entering office, issued a travel ban to stop Muslims and refugees from entering the United States. He cancelled last year’s iftar, choosing to only send a written statement that was largely focused on terrorism. Today, as the third iteration of the Muslim ban is deliberated at the Supreme Court, it is clear that Trump’s iftar is completely and utterly hypocritical. How can one celebrate Ramadan with Muslims inside the White House while doing everything in their power to ban their brothers and sisters in faith from our country’s borders?
Disparaging Muslim communities and breaking up Muslim families runs completely contrary to the beauty of the communal iftar. One such affected family includes that of Aden Hassan, a Somali refugee resettled in Columbus, Ohio. In January 2017, Aden left a Kenyan refugee camp, where he had resided for twenty years, and moved to the U.S. He was assured his ill mother, who lived with him in the camp, would join him shortly after. Sadly, the Muslim travel ban passed mere days later, and she has yet to arrive.
Such delays can be life threatening for refugees with dire health conditions because once they are approved, they only have about a two-month window of time in which to travel. Medical tests can expire within three months, while name checks and biometric screenings are valid for about a year. Once that window has passed, refugees have no choice but to begin the lengthy multi-year resettlement process all over again.
One iftar won’t erase Aden’s struggle, nor will it compensate for the unprecedented rise in hate crimes, fear, and anxiety the Muslim community has faced due to President Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies. This is the message my colleagues and I aimed to convey with the counter iftar we organized on Wednesday evening, urging the Trump administration to “break the ban before breaking the fast.” Because while Trump might have different intentions with leaders of some Muslim majority countries in attendance, we recognize that his approach to the Muslim American community and refugees is crystal clear. And we refuse to be complicit in that.
Wardah Khalid is a Media Associate with Church World Service. Follow her on Twitter @wardahkhalid_.
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