(Update: Adds CAIR’s Qur’anic references.)
(CNSNews.com) – “Shameless, if not bizarrely against the spirit of Ramadan.”
That was American Islamic Forum for Democracy president M. Zuhdi Jasser’s reaction Tuesday to plans by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to hold a protest outside the White House Wednesday, as President Trump hosts an official iftar inside.
Last year CAIR expressed dismay when the president, in a break with the custom of his predecessors over the past two decades, did not hold a Ramadan fast-breaking iftar meal at the White House.
This year Trump is hosting one, and CAIR is joining allies in holding a “counter” event at nearby Lafayette Square.
Organizers said on a Facebook page advertising the event that Trump was trying to “make nice” by hosting an iftar after having “attacked” Muslims as a candidate and as president.
“President Trump has attacked Muslims since the beginning of his campaign and codified his Islamophobia with the Muslim Bans,” they wrote, using CAIR’s preferred term for the president’s travel executive orders targeting countries determined by the administration to pose terrorism concerns.
“Now he wants to make nice and host an iftar dinner after skipping the tradition last year. Join us this [year] for a counter iftar held simultaneously outside the White House to say not in our name.”
The protest event dubbed “NOT Trump’s iftar” is being organized by CAIR and several other groups, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Islamic Circle of North America’s council for social justice, according to the event page.
“Muslims and people of all faiths and no faith are welcome to join,” it says. “Listen to people in the vanguard of the fight against Islamophobia, then join Muslims and allies as we break our fast and make sure the administration knows we support our Muslim siblings and neighbors. Food and beverages will be provided.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed Tuesday that Trump will host an iftar dinner on Wednesday night, with around 30-40 attendees.
On Twitter, Jasser wondered how CAIR’s “supposedly ‘religious’ base’ would view the group’s exploiting of the White House iftar “for a cheap protest.”
“Where’s the Ramadan fatwa for that one?!”
CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper, in an email with the subject line “Jasser’s request for Islamic justification,” listed four Qur’anic references (see below).
Jasser, who is co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement, has long been a critic of CAIR, which calls itself the nation’s biggest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. CAIR is in turn hostile towards the moderate Muslim leader.
On Trump’s decision to host an iftar this year, Jasser said he thought it was a good idea.
But he also voiced caution, saying he has never understood whether the agenda for White House iftar dinner was primarily a domestic one, focusing on religious liberty, or a global one, with a diplomatic focus.
Previous presidents’ iftar guest lists typically included American Muslim representatives, members of Congress, and ambassadors from Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member-states.
“If they invite only domestic leadership then it would make sense to marginalize Islamists or at least also include our Muslim Reform Movement leaders and supporters,” Jasser said.
“If however they also include or predominantly include embassy staff from many Islamist tyrannies of the OIC who may also happen to be our allies like KSA [Saudi Arabia], Turkey, Qatar, and others then the impact of such a WH engagement with truly liberal Muslims becomes watered down to minimal in the presence of oppressive Islamist establishment figures of various regimes.”
The White House has hosted an annual iftar during Ramadan most years since then-First Lady Hillary Clinton invited Muslim leaders to an end-of-Ramadan Eid al-Fitr party in February 1996.
Last year, when Trump did not hold one, CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad called it “a break in American tradition and values.”
Awad wrote at the time that the decision “reflects the Trump administration’s outright hostility toward the American Muslim community and its discomfort in acknowledging that Muslims are a part of our nation.”
He also said the decision shouldn’t come as a surprise – “given that a number of individuals serving in his administration have a history of problematic and misleading statements about Islam and Muslims.”
And he concluded by arguing that Muslim leaders and activists would have been torn about how to respond to an invitation, had the iftar been held.
“Some would have accepted the invitation under the belief that you must continue to engage with elected officials to deliver a message on behalf of the community -- even at the risk of facing some backlash from the grassroots,” he said.
“Others would not have accepted such an invitation on the principle of not engaging with a president that has fostered anti-Muslim sentiment let alone failed to clearly and strongly condemn the rise in Islamophobic bigotry and acts of deadly violence.”
Awad did not indicate how CAIR would have responded.
In a statement last month marking the beginning of Ramadan, Trump sent greetings to Muslims in the U.S. and around the world.
“Ramadan reminds us of the richness Muslims add to the religious tapestry of American life,” he said. “In the United States, we are all blessed to live under a Constitution that fosters religious liberty and respects religious practice.”
In an email, CAIR spokesman Hooper provided what he suggested was theological justification for the decision to hold a counter iftar – four verses from the Qur’an:
“Show forgiveness, speak for justice and avoid the ignorant.” The Holy Quran, 7:199
"O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor." The Holy Quran, 4:135
“The Word of thy Lord finds its fulfillment in truth and in justice.” The Holy Quran, 6:115
"All human beings that have done injustice would surely, if they possessed all that is on earth, offer it as ransom (to redeem themselves on Judgment Day)." The Holy Quran, 10:54