Trump set to host first iftar dinner today


In a move that may sound surprising, given his many comments and actions against Muslim immigrants and countries, US President Donald Trump hosted a formal dinner Wednesday in celebration of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

During the dinner, Trump extolled the virtues of Ramadan and called for cooperation in the Middle East.

USA presidents have previously hosted iftar dinners at the White House for foreign diplomats, Cabinet officials and Muslim leaders from civil society organisations in honour of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"In gathering together this evening we honor a sacred tradition of one of the world's great religions".

As the event unfolded, several journalists on Twitter pointed that none of the invitees appeared to be American Muslims except for the imam leading the prayer.

To protest the snub, they held a counter-event, "NOT Trump's Iftar" across from the White House, at Lafayette Square in the USA capital.

Attendees included Vice President Pence and a few other Cabinet members, as well as ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Kuwait, Indonesia, Jordan and other Muslim-majority countries.

He recalled that the first state visit of his presidency was to Saudi Arabia, calling it "one of the most fabulous times" of his presidency.

"Only by working together can we achieve a future of prosperity and security for all", he said. But when news emerged that it would resume the tradition, questions arose as to who would be attending as the White House kept the list quiet. In January 2017, Trump signed an executive order, dubbed the "Muslim ban", which prohibited people from seven predominantly-Muslim countries from entering the US.

Sharif Aly, CEO of Islamic Relief USA, a humanitarian and advocacy organization, said the group was glad to see the White House had reinstated the iftar, "an event that should be hosted every year, just like the Easter Egg Roll, the Passover Seder and Christmas Open House". It also affects two non-Muslim countries, blocking travelers from North Korea and some Venezuelan government officials and their families.

Past year when Trump opted against hosting an iftar dinner, he was also under fire as the American Muslim community had grown accustomed to attending dinners under previous administrations, including presidents Barack Obama and George W Bush.