WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have both released statements to celebrate the Islamic month of Ramadan, as the administration prepares for the annual Iftar dinner at the White House.
To commemorate the beginning of Ramadan, the White House released a statement from President Obama on Friday. In the statement, the President pays tribute to Muslims across the world and describes Ramadan as a “blessed month” and a “sacred time.”
“Here in the United States,” Obama wrote, “we are grateful to the many Muslim American organizations, individuals, and businesses that are devoted to creating opportunity for all by working to reduce income inequality and poverty, not only through their charitable efforts, but also through their initiatives to empower students, workers and families with the education, skills and health care they deserve.”
“At a moment when too many people around the world continue to suffer from senseless conflict and violence,” Obama continued, “this sacred time reminds us of our common obligations to pursue justice and peace and to uphold the dignity of every human being.”
Likewise, Secretary of State John Kerry praised the Ramadan tradition in a statement released Friday, wishing Muslims “a peaceful Ramadan and joyful month.”
“Across the globe, Muslims will assemble and celebrate a rich tradition with fasting and prayer, as generations have done every year since the time of the Prophet Muhammad,” Kerry stated. “Here in America, Muslims will commemorate Ramadan in ways that reflect the great diversity of our country and the spirit of community that binds us together.”
“The diversity and patriotism of America’s religious communities are sources of strength for all of us, and our freedom to worship is a powerful reminder of the traditions we share,” Kerry added. “E Pluribus Unum—From Many, One. And from many faiths, we stand together in one shared country.”
In their statements, both Obama and Kerry mentioned the administration’s upcoming Iftar dinners, in which Muslim leaders will gather for dinners with Obama and other administration officials. The President has hosted the Islamic dinners in the White House every year since 2009; however, the tradition was started by Bill Clinton in 1993 and continued by George W. Bush.
During Obama’s first commemoration of Ramadan in 2009, he praised the Muslims’ prayers, fasting, and Koran-reading, saying Islam plays a role “in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.”
In previous Ramadan ceremonies, Obama has asserted that Thomas Jefferson once hosted an Iftar dinner at the White House. For example, in his 2010 Ramadan remarks, the President said Thomas Jefferson’s hosting of a Tunisian ambassador in 1805 was “the first known Iftar at the White House.”
Despite Obama’s claims, many have disputed the Jefferson Iftar story. According to a 2010 article from Jihad Watch, Jefferson did in fact host a Tunisian Muslim for a White House meal, but the dinner was not considered an observance of Ramadan or an endorsement of Islam. Rather, Islam was viewed negatively by nearly all of the founding fathers, including Jefferson.
“There is not a single American statesman or traveler or diplomat in the days of the early Republic who had a good word for Islam,” the Jihad Watch article argues. “Look high, look low, consult whatever you want in the National Archives or the Library of Congress, and you will not find any such testimony.”