(CNSNews.com) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday night wished Muslims across the globe a blessed Ramadan, hosting ambassadors from Muslim-majority nations for a fast-breaking iftar meal which he described as “a sacred tradition of one of the world’s great religions.”
As he did so, Muslim Americans and others gathered nearby for a “counter” event at which speakers called the president an Islamophobe and chanted slogans including, “No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all!” and “When Muslims are under attack what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
Trump’s decision to host an intimate iftar, attended also by Vice President Mike Pence and several members of the cabinet, came a year after he chose not to hold what has become an annual White House tradition since the Clinton administration.
Addressing the event in the State Dining Room, Trump said he it was a “great honor” to host his Muslim guests for the “magnificent dinner.”
“In gathering together this evening, we honor a sacred tradition of one of the world’s great religions,” he said. “For the Islamic faithful, the iftar dinner marks the end of the daily period of fasting and spiritual reflection that occurs throughout the holy month of Ramadan.”
“Iftars mark the coming together of families and friends to celebrate a timeless message of peace, clarity and love,” he continued. “There is great love.”
“Tonight, we give thanks for the renewed bonds of friendship and cooperation we have forged with our valued partners from all across the Middle East.”
Trump recalled his visit to Saudi Arabia – on his first presidential trip abroad – when he co-hosted a U.S.-Arab-Islamic summit in May 2017. Among other things, he used the gathering to call for a cutoff of funding for terrorism and the isolation of Iran.
“Only by working together can we achieve a future of security and prosperity for all,” he said. “For this reason, I was proud to make my first foreign trip as president to the heart of the Muslim world, where I addressed an assembly of more than 50 leaders of Muslim-majority countries. That was something.”
“The partnership and solidarity that we established over the past year has only deepened with time,” he said. “So many friendships, so many meetings – even in the Oval Office.”
Ambassadors present included those from a dozen Arab countries along with counterparts from the wider Islamic world, including envoys from Azerbaijan, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
The imam who led the call to prayer was Lt. Col. Dawud Agbere, a Ghanaian-born member of the U.S. Army chaplain corps.
‘We are what makes this country great’
At nearby Lafayette Square, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and several other Islamic groups hosted a small protest event that ended with sunset prayers and an iftar meal.
“President Trump has attacked Muslims since the beginning of his campaign, and codified his Islamophobia into administrative acts, into administrative hirings,” said CAIR government affairs manager Robert McCaw.
“Now he wants to make nice and host an iftar dinner after skipping on the tradition last year.”
Not only is the White House iftar a year late, McCaw said, “it’s only open to foreign Muslim diplomats. Trump doesn’t engage with American Muslims.”
“This event is about an Islamophobic businessman who somehow found himself living in the house behind me, as the president of the United States of America, a man who has perpetuated Islamophobia day after day,” Mussab Ali, a young Muslim recently elected onto the New Jersey school board, told the participants.
After recalling Trump’s claims during his campaign to have seen thousands of people in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 terror attack, Ali concluded his remarks with “one last message for this person in the White House behind me: It is American Muslims, and Muslims, who make America great.”
“We don’t need Donald Trump’s validation, we don’t need Donald Trump’s iftar, or an invitation to Donald Trump’s iftar, to know that we’re part of this country,” said American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee legal director Abed Ayoub. “And we are – as what my brother said earlier – we are what makes this country great.”
Zahid Bukhari, executive director of the Islamic Circle of North America’s council for social justice, said that if Trump wants to “embrace” the idea of engaging the American Muslim community by holding an iftar, he should go further.
“He should embrace the American public, he should embrace the Latinos, he should embrace the immigrants, he should embrace the refugees, he should embrace the Afro-American community, he should also embrace [the] Muslim community,” and in doing so, Bukhari said, he would embrace “American values.”
While campaigning for the White House, Trump called – following the Dec. 2015 terror attack in San Bernardino, Calif. by a couple inspired by ISIS – for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”
Once in office he issued executive orders restricting travel by citizens of a handful of mostly Muslim-majority states determined by his administration – and its predecessor in 2015-16 – to pose terror risks. Legal challenges to the orders are currently before the Supreme Court.