President Trump issued a statement on Ramadan — a holy month of fasting and prayer for Muslims around the world — that focused primarily on violence and terrorism. His statement was a stark contrast from the Ramadan message President George W. Bush issued in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, in which he emphasized how millions of Americans are Muslim and explained Islamic belief.
“At its core, the spirit of Ramadan strengthens awareness of our shared obligation to reject violence, to pursue peace, and to give to those in need who are suffering from poverty or conflict,” Trump wrote.
Trump noted recent terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and in Egypt, “acts of depravity that are directly contrary to the spirit of Ramadan. Such acts only steel our resolve to defeat the terrorists and their perverted ideology.”
Trump also noted his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, where he gave a speech on terrorism. “I reiterate my message delivered in Riyadh: America will always stand with our partners against terrorism and the ideology that fuels it,” he said in the statement.
Several Americans who are Muslims said Friday that they especially noted Trump’s framing of terrorism around Ramadan. Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who is Muslim, said his expectations of Trump are so low that he seemed surprised Trump said something “vaguely nice” in parts of the statement.
“Trump has so rarely recognized that American Muslims even exist, but this offers apparent proof that he is aware of our existence. Great!” he said. “Putting all that context aside, it’s offensive and pretty much terrible.”
Trump’s statement, Hamid said, ties Muslims who are American citizens to the problem of terrorism.
“We, as American Muslims, shouldn’t be defined solely in our relationship to bad things that we have nothing to do with,” Hamid said. “We’re also normal people who happen to be Muslim and to see us and our history in America so narrowly is plain out offensive.”
Asma T. Uddin, editor of AltMuslimah, said she thinks Trump’s statement is typical of his position on Islam, though it’s less infused with fear. For instance, Trump said a year ago, “I think Islam hates us.”
“To the extent he’s playing nice, it’s again and always linked to Muslims’ utility in countering radicalism/solving terrorism,” she said.
Muslims spend the month of Ramadan in prayer and reflection and feeding the poor, and Wajahat Ali, a writer and lawyer who has studied the anti-Muslim movement in the United States. He joked about how Trump’s statement seems odd in context.
“I didn’t know Allah sent down Ramadan, a month of mercy, peace and blessings, to deputize American Muslims to help the U.S. fight ISIS,” Ali said, referring to the Islamic State by another name. “Here I was thinking it’s a month where Muslims reconnect with our spirit, our creator, our family and our communities and uplift ourselves through fasting, restraint, generosity and prayer.”
Compared with Trump and his comments on Islam, Bush is “seen as a moderate, enlightened sage,” Ali said.
“I mean do you really want us to fight ISIS during Ramadan?” Ali said. “We’ll be weak. I’m fasting from dawn until sunset. Not even water? Not even water! I mean, I could kill terrorists with my Ramadan breath.”
Trump’s statement comes after two terrorist attacks this week that drew global attention. A suicide bomber killed 22 people at a concert in Manchester, England, on Monday night. The suicide bomber grew up in a Muslim home but was banned from his local mosque and reported by the community multiple times, but authorities didn’t act, according to the Telegraph.
On Friday, militants opened fire on a bus carrying Coptic Christians in central Egypt, killing at least 28 people, though no group had claimed responsibility for the attack. The bus was headed to a pilgrimage site in an area that is home to a large portion of Egypt’s Christian population.
Presidents have long issued statements commemorating religious holidays, and this one was drafted at the State Department and the National Security Council before it made its way to the president’s desk, a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the impetus of the president’s statement.
“He’s not blaming Muslims,” she said. “He’s asking for solidarity in fighting this battle. In light of what has happened over the last week, this is something that is utterly antithetical to what Ramadan and Islam is supposed to be about. He wanted to raise it in this context.”
The official said she did not know whether the White House would host anything for Ramadan as it has in the past.
Bush’s 2001 statement on Ramadan did not note terrorism or violence and described Islam as one of the fastest-growing religions in the country, with millions of followers in the United States.
“It teaches the value and importance of charity, mercy, and peace,” Bush wrote. He noted U.S. humanitarian relief efforts in Afghanistan and quoted the Koran, but his main emphasis was on Americans who are Muslim and what Islam teaches.
“The American Muslim community is as varied as the many Muslim communities across the world,” Bush wrote. “Muslims from diverse backgrounds pray together in mosques all across our great land. And American Muslims serve in every walk of life, including our armed forces.”
Trump and many of his Cabinet members have a long history of making comments about Islam that have upset Muslims. (The Washington Post compiled a timeline of his comments.)
For example, when he was a candidate, Trump had trouble recalling Americans who are Muslim. After Trump tweeted in 2015 that he couldn’t recall any Muslim “sports heroes,” pictures of him with the boxer Muhammad Ali began to circulate.
“He could not recall the honor of being on stage with one of the icons of American life but could remember to deny part of America’s story,” said Hussein Rashid, founder of Islamicate, a consultancy focusing on religious literacy. “With his depth of understanding of religion and the company he keeps, I fully expect him to honor the Ku Klux Klan as representatives of Christianity during his Christmas message.”
Ali, who died in 2016, was one of the most famous American Muslims. In 2015, he issued a statement aimed at Trump in which he decried anti-Muslim speech.
“I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world,” Ali said. “True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.”
Ramadan begins Friday evening and ends on June 24.
The full statement from President Trump on Ramadan is below:
On behalf of the American people, I would like to wish all Muslims a joyful Ramadan.
During this month of fasting from dawn to dusk, many Muslims in America and around the world will find meaning and inspiration in acts of charity and meditation that strengthen our communities. At its core, the spirit of Ramadan strengthens awareness of our shared obligation to reject violence, to pursue peace, and to give to those in need who are suffering from poverty or conflict.
This year, the holiday begins as the world mourns the innocent victims of barbaric terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and Egypt, acts of depravity that are directly contrary to the spirit of Ramadan. Such acts only steel our resolve to defeat the terrorists and their perverted ideology.
On my recent visit to Saudi Arabia, I had the honor of meeting with the leaders of more than 50 Muslim nations. There, in the land of the two holiest sites in the Muslim world, we gathered to deliver together an emphatic message of partnership for the sake of peace, security, and prosperity for our countries and for the world.
I reiterate my message delivered in Riyadh: America will always stand with our partners against terrorism and the ideology that fuels it. During this month of Ramadan, let us be resolved to spare no measure so that we may ensure that future generations will be free of this scourge and able to worship and commune in peace.
I extend my best wishes to Muslims everywhere for a blessed month as you observe the Ramadan traditions of charity, fasting, and prayer. May God bless you and your families.