WASHINGTON, July 16, 2013 — As Ramadhan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, begins, it is celebrated not only by Muslims but by many major politicians in the United States. The tradition dates back to 1805, where then President Thomas Jefferson invited Muslim delegates from Tunisia to the White House for an Iftar dinner.
Nearly two hundred years later the practice has continued with White House Iftar dinners hosted by President Clinton, President Bush and President Obama. Far from a unique event in the nation’s capital, Iftar events are held throughout the city. This year, the Pentagon held its fifteenth annual Iftar and the State Department will also continue its annual dinner dating back to 1996.
During the month of Ramadhan, Muslims are required to avoid any food or drink (including water and medicine), from dawn until sunset. At sunset, Muslims may make conclude their fast with a meal called Iftar. With more than a month dedicated to restricting food, Ramadhan is intended to be a time of spiritual and social advancement, as discussed in BBC’s Why Ramadan brings us closer together.
Washington D.C. based embassies from countries in the Middle East or with significant Muslim populations also hold extravagant Iftar celebrations and invitations to the grand events are highly sought after.
Such events occur across the country, and are often effective tools for politicians to reach out to Muslim constituents. New York State Senator Eric Adams for example, attended the Arab Muslim American Foundation’s 16th Annual Iftar last year and Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s 2013 Iftar is sold out days ahead of time.
Iftar dinners apparently serve as a bipartisan event with high profile Republican and Democratic Governors regularly hosting the events. In 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger, a Republican, co-hosted an Iftar with dozens of other state legislators. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is also set to host his seventh annual Ramadhan Iftar this year. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, also a Republican, linked his own Iftar last year, to the NYPD spying scandal, a program he vehemently opposes.
“With the appearance of the crescent moon, Muslim families across the nation mark the beginning of Ramadan. As millions of Americans participate in this holy month of fasting, they will grow in their faith and strengthen the bonds within their families.
“We recognize our Muslim American communities this month and are especially mindful of the many ways they enrich our country and culture with their faith, customs and traditions. We wish all who are fasting a blessed Ramadan,” said Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus and Co-Chairwoman Sharon Day in a released statement.
UMAA Advocacy Director Ali Tehrani says, “It’s great to see that politicians from both sides of the aisle can come together to host these types of events. That so many communities across the country are welcoming Muslims with these Iftar dinners is a testament to the American dream.”
Iftar dinners have also been used as an interfaith tool, with the noted “Iftar in a Synagogue” series, boasting an attendance of nine hundred at its annual program. In Missouri last year, local Churches came together to support the Muslim community with an Iftar dinner after a mysterious fire at the Joplin Mosque construction site.
The United States uses Iftar receptions as a diplomatic tool around the world with American embassies hosting their on Iftar functions in countries as Singapore.
Not to be outdone, the commercial industry has taken advantage of Iftars as a business opportunity. Qatar Airways boasts of a special Iftar dinner box offered on its flights during the month of Ramadhan. As Muslims typically start Iftar with dates, sales of the food item have skyrocketed around the world, growing as much as 200%.
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