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White House Announces It Will Host An Iftar For Ramadan, After Declining Last Year


The White House is hosting an iftar this evening. That's the fast-breaking meal held at sundown during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The organization that helped start the tradition under President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago was not invited. That's the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and we're joined now by one of its leaders. Omar Noureldin, welcome to the program.

OMAR NOURELDIN: Hi, Ari. Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: To start, would you just briefly tell us the significance of iftar?

NOURELDIN: It's a breaking of bread with your community. So it has both that practical, communal aspect of it. It almost seems like a reunion of sorts where, during the month of Ramadan, friends and family host each other. But it also has the element of reflection and refinement in our daily lives and daily practices.

SHAPIRO: And your organization for the first time in many years was not invited to this iftar hosted by the Trump administration. And I understand most of the mainstream Muslim American organizations in the U.S. were also not invited.

NOURELDIN: That's correct, Ari. And that points to a larger theme that has been developing under this president that Islam is a foreign religion. So the fact that there isn't any major American Muslim leaders or organizations that were invited or will be represented at this iftar is that Islam is something that is apart from America, which is just not true. I mean, American Muslims have been a part of this country since its founding.

SHAPIRO: Muslim organizations have been very critical of the Trump administration. If you had been invited, would you have gone?

NOURELDIN: That's a great question, and I don't think we would have gone, Ari. And the reason is is that there has to be more than just a passive invite. You know, we don't want to be tokenized as, oh, look; you know, I invited American Muslim organizations. They're here. All is well and good. You know, if that invite had been coupled with a policy announcement that the administration was abandoning its litigation on the Muslim travel ban case, if the administration would have, and the president himself would have, backtracked some of his statements about Islam, like Islam hates us, maybe that would have been the olive branch necessary.

Or, you know, you could have imagined the iftar to have a specific theme. The theme could have been, you know, let's celebrate the contributions of American Muslims, that they're vital contributors to this country and in science and medicine and business and in pop culture. Maybe that could have been a first step.

SHAPIRO: How is your criticism of the Trump administration over the travel ban and the president's remarks different from your criticism of the Bush administration over the Iraq war or the Obama administration over its use of drones or other criticisms that you had of past presidents?

NOURELDIN: So with past presidents, we felt that engaging the White House and the government that we were able to move the needle on some of these issues. The difference here, Ari, is that with the Trump administration, we have seen no effort by them, by the president himself, his senior officials, who are noted anti-Muslim extremists, Cabinet officials, towards engaging in a productive dialogue with the American Muslim community. And I believe it's incumbent on the president and his Cabinet and senior White House officials to extend those olive branches genuinely. And until they do so, we don't believe that there's going to be a meaningful dialogue or ability to move the needle on the issues that affect our communities.

SHAPIRO: The Trump administration did not host an iftar last year. Even though you have the criticisms that you've described, do you see their decision to host one this year as some sort of a step in the right direction?

NOURELDIN: You know, I don't. And I think the fact that, you know, major American Muslim leaders and organizations have not been invited is actually a slap in the face. And it's continuing to say, we don't see you. You're not here. And it's making, you know, the experiences of millions of American Muslims shut out of our highest levels of government.

SHAPIRO: Omar Noureldin is vice president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Thanks for joining us today.

NOURELDIN: Thank you, Ari, for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.