U.S. Government Iftars: From Symbolism of Recognition to Programs in Partnership

August 12, 2011

As the month of Ramadan progresses, we are seeing a rise in the recognition of the contributions from the Muslim American community. Within the first two weeks of Ramadan, MPAC already has attended ftars from the White House and Department of Homeland Security to the Brookings Institution. Iftars are scheduled for later this month by the British Embassy, Pentagon and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

All across America, Muslim Americans are being invited to break fast with their non-Muslim American brethren. The fact that local, state and federal governments are hosting iftars for their Muslim constituents illustrates the level of dialogue taking place between government and Muslim communities. Muslim organizations have helped government by providing a Muslim American narrative, one that stresses Islamic obligations to serve our country and to enrich American pluralism.

Indeed, Muslims have been part of the American framework since its inception. American society saw its first population of Muslims through the import of African slaves. From that point, there are historical accounts of Muslims fighting in the Revolutionary War, aiming to assist in the creation of this nation. For example, Peter Salem, a former slave of Muslim background from Massachusetts, fought in 1775 in the Battle of Bunker Hill and later fought in the Battle of Saratoga. Our Founding Fathers recognized the traditions of Muslims; both Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson owned copies of the Quran in their personal libraries and referenced Islam in their work on the nation’s founding documents.

The first account of a White House iftar was during Jefferson’s presidency in which he changed his dinner schedule to meet after sunset because his guest, Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, Tunisia’s Muslim envoy to America, was adhering to the fast for Ramadan. The Muslim American community has become such a vibrant part of society that the White House no longer has to rely on having iftars with foreign dignitaries; it hosts its own recognition of Ramadan by inviting leaders and active citizens within the Muslim American community.

Recognizing Muslims as part of the American landscape is not just falling on the government’s radar; local communities are hosting Muslim Americans for iftars, as well. Interfaith groups are coming together to break fast in honor of this holy month. It is through these actions that Muslim Americans are truly being identified as part of American society.

As this month progresses, the iftars are becoming more of an important symbol of the presence of the Muslim American community. Through the simple act of breaking bread with non-Muslim Americans, we are becoming the example of the harmonious confluence of our Muslim and American identities. Now, it is our responsibility as Muslim Americans to pursue an effective path of increasing involvement as productive members of society.

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