On Monday evening, three Muslim members of Congress ― Reps. André Carson (D-Ind.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) ― hosted a historic iftar in the U.S. Capitol to recognize the holy month of Ramadan and honor the contributions of the Muslim American community.
The gathering to break that day’s Ramadan fast was the first iftar to be hosted by Congress’ own Muslim members. The event, which was co-hosted by the national civil rights organization Muslim Advocates, was also set to be the first congressional iftar to be addressed by any speaker of the House.
“It’s important to take a moment to recognize how historic this iftar is,” Tlaib said in a statement. “This event lifts an entire community that has felt unseen for far too long. We have been unjustly targeted to ignite fear and promote an agenda of hate. Tonight, we recommit to being rooted in justice, inclusivity, and a sense of belonging.”
Along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) were also set to attend.
Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, told HuffPost that the event was significant not only because it celebrated the unprecedented number of Muslims in Congress but because it came at a time when anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes are at an all-time high.
“This is particularly meaningful now given the increasing public role that Muslims are having in civic life,” Khera said. “To have this opportunity to have members of Congress recognize our community, and to say that they see us and they support us, is just absolutely crucial, especially in the holiest month on the calendar for Muslims.”
Last week, President Donald Trump hosted his own iftar at the White House, but without the presence of American Muslims. (The White House declined to share the guest list for this year’s event.)
The White House iftar is an annual tradition that dates back to 1996 when the Clinton administration invited foreign diplomats, politicians and local Muslim leaders and organizations to break their Ramadan fast. American presidents on both sides of the aisle upheld the custom until 2017, when Trump canceled the iftar entirely. He resumed the event in 2018 and 2019, both times excluding major Muslim American organizations and their members. Instead, the guest lists largely featured various Muslim foreign dignitaries and diplomats. Approximately 30 to 40 people attended last year.
Of the three current Muslim members of Congress, Carson and Omar were not invited to this year’s White House iftar, their spokespersons told HuffPost. Tlaib’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Khera called the lack of American Muslims at the White House dinner disappointing but not surprising. In stark contrast, the congressional iftar, with an expected 150 attendees, was predominantly attended by U.S. Muslims. It was important to “center American Muslim” voices and not present Muslims as strictly “foreign or other,” Khera told HuffPost.
“This president, unfortunately, his track record is to try to essentially cozy up to foreign Muslim leaders that he thinks are going to do his bidding in surface interest and, on the flip side, just demonize and marginalize the American Muslim community,” she said.
Some Muslims have said publicly that they would have declined an invitation to a Trump iftar if they had been extended one. Muslim Americans have repeatedly voiced concerns about the current administration and pointed to Trump’s policies such as the Muslim travel ban and his history of hiring anti-Muslim officials, all which has contributed to the rise in Islamophobic rhetoric over the last few years.
Trump has repeatedly targeted Omar and Tlaib ever since they were sworn in to Congress earlier this year. Just last week, the president accused Tlaib of “obviously [having] tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people” after a release of a Yahoo News podcast on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in which she participated. A month earlier, Trump tweeted out-of-context clips from a speech that Omar had made and interlaced them with news footage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
While Omar and Tlaib, the first two Muslim women in Congress, face this barrage of attacks from Trump and other Republicans, many have criticized the Democratic leadership for not vehemently defending their colleagues.
Pelosi, who eventually responded to Trump’s tweets against Tlaib and Omar, said in a statement that it was an “honor” to attend the iftar among her Democratic colleagues.
“As we come together to give thanks for the blessing of this sacred season, we celebrate the rich traditions and remarkable contributions that Muslim Americans bring to our communities, making America more American,” she added.
Omar and Carson said in statements that they were also honored to be part of the historic event.
“Our work to secure greater visibility and respect is far from done, but tonight’s event is a step forward that should make Muslims and allies of the faith very proud,” Carson said.
In her statement, Omar called the evening historic.
“For the first time, three Muslim-American Members of Congress hosted an iftar in the United States Capitol during the holy month of Ramadan — joined by leaders of both Houses of Congress,” Omar said. “It was a reminder that we are a nation founded on religious liberty, where people seeking opportunity and a better life can find it, regardless of their faith.”