Muslim Leaders Aren't Having White House's Ramadan Invite

Reps from Muslim community turn iftar dinner down, choose policy talk over Israel's war in Gaza
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 3, 2024 10:05 AM CDT
Muslim Leaders Turn Down White House's Ramadan Invite
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/lucky-photographer)

Muslim leaders met Tuesday evening with President Biden and Vice President Harris, but it wasn't the event that the White House had originally planned. The Washington Post reports that a half-dozen or so representatives from the Muslim community were originally invited for an iftar dinner, the meal that Muslims eat during the holy month of Ramadan to break their fast. However, those leaders declined that invite, saying they couldn't in good conscience partake while so many people are suffering and dying in Gaza as a result of Israel's war against Hamas—with the United States supporting Israel.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted that the dinner was nixed after the Muslim leaders "expressed the preference" of a policy meeting instead. Salima Suswell of the Black Muslim Leadership Council says she initially considered boycotting the White House invite altogether, but ultimately decided it was more important for her voice to be heard, noting, "I have been consistent in my position that engagement is very important right now." The White House still held a small iftar meal after the policy meeting, for Muslim senior staffers in the administration only, reports ABC News.

Meanwhile, the policy meeting itself, Biden's first with Muslim leaders in about five months, was marked by "high tensions, anger, and concern," including one Palestinian-American doctor who felt compelled to exit early, reports CNN. "I said it was disappointing I'm the only Palestinian here, and out of respect for my community, I'm going to leave," emergency doctor Thaer Ahmad says he told Biden, noting he handed the president a letter from an orphaned 8-year-old girl in Rafah who begged, "I beg you, President Biden, stop them from entering Rafah."

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In a statement, a White House official acknowledged that "this is a deeply painful moment for many in the Muslim and Arab communities," and that Biden "made clear that he mourns the loss of every innocent life in this conflict" and would keep working "to secure an immediate ceasefire as part of a deal to free the hostages and significantly increase humanitarian aid into Gaza." The Post notes that the meeting "underscores the significant challenges Biden faces with the Arab American and Muslim communities seven months before the presidential election." More here on the tense meeting. (More Israel-Hamas war stories.)

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