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American Muslim Groups Plan to Boycott White House Ramadan


FILE - President Joe Biden, left, listens as Talib M. Shareef, President and Imam of Masjid Muhammad in Washington, speaks during a reception to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, May 2, 2022.
FILE - President Joe Biden, left, listens as Talib M. Shareef, President and Imam of Masjid Muhammad in Washington, speaks during a reception to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, May 2, 2022.

American Muslims outraged by President Joe Biden's support of Israel say they will not take part in White House Ramadan and Eid celebrations this year as they continue to demand that the administration push for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

Should an invitation come, it's "widely understood" that American Muslim community leaders and organizations will decline, said Robert McCaw, director of the Government Affairs Department at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR.

"This decision is due to the administration's failure to address Muslim community demands for an immediate and permanent cease-fire," McCaw told VOA. "And its refusal to stop supplying manufactured weapons to Israel, which are being used in a genocide against our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Gaza."

Amid media reports that the administration is considering scaling back Ramadan events at the White House, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said no celebration related to the holy month has been announced.

American Muslim Groups Plan to Boycott White House Ramadan
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"We understand that it is a painful time for a number of communities," she told VOA during her press briefing Monday. Senior White House officials have met with members of the Arab, Muslim and Palestinian communities "to talk about their views, to voice their concerns, and we welcome that," she added.

The suffering of the Palestinian people "will be front of mind for many" Muslims this Ramadan, President Joe Biden said in a statement marking the beginning of the month. "It is front of mind for me."

Since taking office, Biden has continued the decadeslong White House tradition of hosting Muslim community leaders that began with President Bill Clinton in 1996. Both Republican and Democratic presidents have hosted iftar dinner during Ramadan or an Eid al Fitr reception to mark the end of fasting after the month.

But this year, in addition to potentially facing the embarrassment of a massive boycott, the White House would likely want to avoid scenes where Biden is shouted at and heckled by pro-Palestinian protesters. Several of them have disrupted his campaign events around the country.

Outrage over Gaza is also affecting Nowruz, the Persian New Year celebrated by diaspora groups of varying ethnicity and religious affiliation from countries beyond Iran, including Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Nowruz this year overlaps with Ramadan. And instead of inviting hundreds of people to a reception as the administration has done in the past, this weekend the White House will be hosting a "Nowruz Open House tour."

"I'm not sure if the president himself would participate," said Jawaid Kotwal, board member of the Afghan American Foundation. "So it's way different. A watered-down, downgraded version of the typical Nowruz celebrations that we had in the White House."

Kotwal told VOA that he personally declined the invitation but his organization will "look for any avenue to continue to have engagement with any occupant of the White House."

The White House has not responded to requests for further details on its Nowruz or Ramadan plans.

In his statement marking Nowruz, Biden said the war has "inflicted terrible suffering on the Palestinian people," and vowed to "continue to lead international efforts to get more humanitarian assistance to them."

Clouded by controversy

This year is not the first time Ramadan at the White House is clouded with controversy. In his first year in office, President Donald Trump, who campaigned on banning Muslims from entering the United States and signed multiple executive orders restricting immigration from Muslim-majority countries, did not host a Ramadan event.

In 2018 and 2019, Trump welcomed diplomats from Muslim-majority nations to the White House for iftar, but American Muslim organizations and lawmakers were not on the guest list. At the time, American Muslim groups said they would have declined had they been invited.

Some American Muslims boycotted Biden's virtual Eid celebrations in May 2021 as hostilities escalated between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. More than 260 Palestinians were killed in that round of violence, according to the United Nations.

That death toll is a fraction of the more than 31,000 Palestinians killed since Israel launched its military campaign in response to the Hamas October 7 attacks that took at least 1,200 lives in Israel and more than 240 people hostage. The level of anger felt now by American Muslims, Arabs and wide swaths of Biden's Democratic base is also exponentially higher.

The community, including those who work in the administration, would feel "gaslit" by a White House Ramadan event this year, said Tariq Habash, a Palestinian American and former policy adviser at the Department of Education who resigned in protest in January.

"You can't in one hand try and show solidarity and understanding and then in the other hand supply an unrestricted amount of weapons and military funding to an extremist government that is intent on the indiscriminate bombing and killing of civilians," Habash told VOA.

The White House said it has actively engaged with Arab and Muslim Americans since the October 7 Hamas attack. Some in the community have refused to meet with administration officials.

Begum Ersoz, Farhad Pouladi, Anita Powell and Sayed Aziz Rahman contributed to this report.