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Ilhan Omar hosts historic Ramadan iftar on Capitol Hill

Muslim members of US Congress Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib host historic Ramadan iftar
4 min read
22 May, 2019
Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was also in attendance at the iftar dinner, the first of its kind in US political history.
The dinner was the first iftar to be hosted by Muslim members of congress [Getty]
Muslim lawmakers in the United States on Monday night hosted for the first time their own Ramadan fast-breaking meal, a historic moment for US politics in the Muslim holy month.

The main event for Ramadan in Washington, D.C. has until now been the White House Iftar, a fast-breaking meal hosted annually by the president.

President Donald Trump has faced criticism from US Muslim groups for failing to hold the dinner during his first year in office and to invite American Muslim leaders to the event during the past two years.

Somali-American congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Palestinian-American congresswoman Rashida Tlaib were among the lawmakers to host the dinner, which took place midway through the month of Ramadan.

Both Tlaib and Omar have faced a near-continuous barrage of criticism and accusations of anti-Semitism since taking office last year.

Their supporters say they are being targeted for their pro-Palestine stances and that much of the criticism is rooted in Islamophobia and racism.

Attendees at the dinner hosted by rights group Muslim Advocates included around 100 Muslim-American figures, as well as co-host Congressman Andre Carson, who converted to Islam more than two decades ago, and rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is a close friend and ally of both Tlaib and Omar.

No Republican politicians were in attendance, according to Carson.

Attendees first broke their fast with dates, followed by a lavish spread of foods from across the world [Getty]

During the holy month of Ramadan, able Muslims abstain from consuming food and water from sunrise to sunset, as well as from smoking, sexual activity, gossiping and other activities.

Some Muslims, including the young, sick, elderly, pregnant and breastfeeding, are exempted from the practice.

At exactly 8:17 PM on Monday evening, attendees broke their fast with dates, a worldwide Muslim tradition transcending culture and rooted in the practice of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

The historic Iftar dinner provided an opportunity for the Muslim congress members and their allies to strike back at right-wing figures who have routinely vilified them.

"It doesn't matter what you do or what you say – if you're a Muslim, it’s going to get exaggerated," explained Carson, according to The Guardian.

Ocasio-Cortez condemned the treatment of Tlaib and Omar by Trump and the US right-wing, saying: "We know these divisions are a distraction, and they are rooted in the subjugation of all the communities involved that are being pitted against one another."

The congressional Iftar struck a contrast with President Trump's own White House Iftar held earlier this month.

As in 2018, Trump failed to invite members of the Muslim American community to the dinner.

Instead, diplomats from Muslim-majority nations were in attendance at the dinner, Trump's second Ramadan Iftar dinner since breaking the annual tradition created by former President Bill Clinton.

"It is wonderful to serve together in one of the greatest, most powerful bodies in the world, to get this opportunity to convene with you all to celebrate and share a tradition," Omar said in a speech at the Iftar dinner according to The New York Times.

Muslim Advocates executive director Farhana Khera praised the dinner as a crucial bulwark against the "demonisation" of American Muslims.

"This evening, at a time of unprecedented levels of anti-Muslim bigotry and hate crimes, together we showed that we will not be intimidated or cowed by those who wish to demonize and marginalize American Muslims," she said.

"We will express our faith, our dignity and our commitment to caring for each other and our nation."

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