US President Donald Trump has hosted his first White House Iftar dinner for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. Trump skipped hosting such a meal last year.
About 50 people attended the event on Wednesday evening, while dozens of Muslim Americans protested against Trump outside the White House.
The protesters held their own counter event at Lafayette Park, just steps away from the White House.
Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser also attended the White House dinner.
Among those who joined the event were ambassadors of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Tunisia and Iraq.
Trump opened the event by thanking “the Muslim community” in the United States and offering a message of unity, recognizing members of the community at home and abroad.
“In gathering together this evening, we honor a sacred tradition of one of the world’s great religions,” he told the audience.
He said that Iftar, which breaks the daylong fast, “marks coming together of family and friends to celebrate peace” and that he was proud to visit Saudi Arabia last year.
The Muslim community has a contentious relationship with Trump because of the US president’s incendiary rhetoric and policies against Muslims, but Trump has good ties with some monarchies ruling the Islamic states.
Leading Muslim groups in Washington, who attended the event under the Obama administration, boycotted Trump’s dinner, saying he continued targeting Islam and its followers.
“I wouldn’t anticipate that any credible mainstream American Muslim organizations or leaders would be invited or agree to attend, given the administration’s Islamophobic and white supremacist positions and policies,” Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, said on Wednesday.
“There’s always this argument that it’s better to be at the table … but it’s getting increasingly difficult to make,” he stated.
Many Muslim leaders, who had attended Iftar dinners during the previous administrations, said they were not invited and only learned about it through press reports.
“There has been no real engagement, no real effort to even invite members of our faith communities, to have conversations with the White House or administration,” said Hoda Hawa, the director of policy and advocacy at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).
The number of Islamophobic incidents in the United States has spiked following the election of President Trump, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a leading Muslim advocacy group.
Critics say that Trump’s rhetoric and policies against Muslims before and after his election has emboldened far-right groups and promoted anti-Muslim hate crimes across the country.
Last year, Trump suggested that some Muslims should be executed with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, hours after a deadly terror attack in Barcelona, Spain.
“Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught,” Trump tweeted Thursday afternoon. “There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!”