During the dinner, to which mostly ambassadors and diplomats from predominantly Muslim countries were invited, Trump praised the virtues of Ramadan and called for cooperation in the Middle East.

US President Donald Trump speaks at an iftar dinner, which breaks a daylong fast, celebrating Islam's holy month of Ramadan, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Washington DC, US, June 6, 2018.
US President Donald Trump speaks at an iftar dinner, which breaks a daylong fast, celebrating Islam's holy month of Ramadan, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Washington DC, US, June 6, 2018. ( AP )

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday hosted his first iftar dinner as president to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan amid tense relations with the American Muslim community.

During the dinner, to which mostly ambassadors and diplomats from predominantly Muslim countries were invited, Trump praised the virtues of Ramadan and called for cooperation in the Middle East.

“Tonight as we enjoy a magnificent dinner at the White House, let us strive to embody the grace and goodwill that mark the Ramadan season,” the US president told attendees, referring to the dinner as "a sacred tradition of one of the world’s great religions."

“Let us pray for peace and justice and let us resolve that these values will guide us as we work together to build a bright and prosperous future that does honor and glory to God,” he said.

Hosting iftar was a stark departure from the rhetoric Trump used during his campaign, when he called for a "complete and total shutdown" of Muslims entering the country, compared Syrian refugees fleeing civil war to a deadly snake and declared, "I think Islam hates us" in an interview with CNN.

According to a pool report from the White House, attendees included Vice President Mike Pence, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and a few other Cabinet members, as well as ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Kuwait, Indonesia, Jordan, as well as representatives from Turkey and other Muslim-majority countries.

Not Trump's iftar

However, some of the nation's largest Muslim organisations said they had not been invited to the dinner. To protest the snub, they held a counter-event, "NOT Trump's Iftar" across from the White House, at Lafayette Square in the US capital.

Prominent American Muslim leaders who attended iftar dinners under previous administrations said they would have turned down the invitation even if they had been invited, citing Trump's continued targeting of Islam and his history of incendiary comments about Muslims as reasons.

"One thing we are glad [of is] that President Trump has ultimately discovered that there is a Ramadan. There used to be an iftar dinner in the White House which took him nearly 17 months to discover that. That is a good sign," Zahid Bukhari director of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) told Anadolu Agency.

"We realised that he did not invite us. As American Muslims, we thought that it would be good to have a Muslim representative [for] iftar in front of the White House to achieve its objective while his iftar with foreign Muslim diplomats is on right now. That is why we are here."

"When we look at what the White House has been doing with the Muslim ban and now hosting an Iftar dinner is just a contradiction," Reuben Eckels of the Church World Service, who describes himself as an interfaith advocacy minister, told Anadolu Agency.

"We are here to support our Muslim brothers and sisters and those who are refugees and immigrants who came from all over the world to this nation who were supposed to be welcomed here," he added.

The dinner came as the Supreme Court considers legal challenges to Trump's travel ban, which critics say unfairly targets some Muslim-majority countries. A ruling is expected as early as this month.

The current version of Trump's travel ban applies to travelers from five countries with overwhelmingly Muslim populations – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. It also affects two non-Muslim countries, blocking travelers from North Korea and some Venezuelan government officials and their families.

Trump broke with an emerging White House tradition

US presidents have previously hosted iftar dinners at the White House for foreign diplomats, Cabinet officials and Muslim leaders from civil society organisations in honour of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Iftar dinners have been held regularly at the White House since the Clinton administration as a form of outreach to the Muslim world.

Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W Bush hosted ambassadors and diplomats in celebration of Ramadan, declaring "evil has no holy days."

President Barack Obama took up the tradition, saying that discriminating against Muslim Americans "feeds the lie" that the West is at war with their religion.

However, the Trump administration last year broke the decades of precedent by forgoing the annual iftar dinner but surprisingly announced that there would be one for Wednesday.

Source: AA