The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began Saturday, but in a break with almost two decades of tradition, the State Department still has not decided whether to mark it with a reception.
State Department officials said Sunday that they are “exploring” options to observe Ramadan with an iftar dinner or a reception around Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan’s month of day-long fasting. Invitations are usually issued weeks in advance to events at the State Department, the White House and other agencies. Because most guests typically would have received them already, that suggests no Ramadan event will be held at the State Department.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson apparently decided not to host the Eid al-Fitr reception, according to Reuters, which first reported the news. Tillerson is said to have rejected a recommendation from the Office of Religion and Global Affairs, which usually handles the arrangements. The tradition began 18 years ago under Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
“U.S. ambassadors are encouraged to celebrate Ramadan through a variety of activities, which are held annually at missions around the world,” said a State Department statement that did not offer an explanation on why there may not be an Eid al-Fitr reception this year.
Last year, Secretary of State John F. Kerry made an appearance and told attendees that they could be “citizen diplomats” for Muslim values of charity, compassion, justice and peace.
Tillerson issued a statement Friday just before Ramadan began, calling the holiday a month of “reverence, generosity, and self-reflection.”
“Most importantly, it is a cherished time for family and friends to gather and give charity to those who are less fortunate,” he said. “This time reminds us all of the common values of harmony and empathy we hold dear.”
In contrast, the White House issued a statement from President Trump, wishing Muslims a blessed month but also going on at some length about terrorism.
“America will always stand with our partners against terrorism and the ideology that fuels it,” the statement said. “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.”
Even if the State Department had sent out invitations, however, many Muslims may not have attended because of concern about the administration’s rhetoric and policies, said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“Given all the Islamophobic rhetoric, appointments and anti-Muslim policy proposals,” Hooper said, “it sends the message American Muslims are not worthy to engage. In Saudi Arabia, President Trump never mentioned the millions of Muslim Americans and their contributions to society. He and his policy people view Islam and Muslims as a foreign issue, or a security issue.”