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Honored to be invited to the State Department Iftar – and grateful for the #WhiteHouseIftar

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

iftar-invite

I am grateful and honored to have been invited to the State Department Iftar hosted by Secretary John Kerry, which will take place tonight in Washington D.C. It is with sincere regret that I am unable to attend due to my other obligations during Ramadan.

President Obama will also hold an iftar at the White House tomorrow evening, which will be his 5th (one every year of his Presidency thus far) and continues a tradition begun by President George W. Bush in November of 2001.

Now, this year these Iftars have come under fire by certain political activists in the Muslim American community. Their basic argument is that Muslims who accept the Iftar invitation by the President or the Administration are “house muslims” who are somehow betraying the Muslim community. The intention of these activists is to shame and embarrass any Muslim who embraces Barack Obama.

Ironically, they do this not because they are fundamentalist jihadist Muslims who see America as a great Satan; it is because they are fundamentalist left-wing Muslims who see America as a great Satan. The litany of major complaints is a familiar one: the drone war (which targets Muslims abroad), domestic spying on Muslims (which Obama had nothing to do with), and force-feeding of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay (which Obama did try to close but was stymied by Congress). They consider any outreach by Obama to the Muslim American community as hypocritical and self-serving appeasement, and blame Muslims who accept that outreach for essentially validating those policies and even perpetuating and being complicit in them. There is even a hashtag – #WhiteHouseIftar – where these activists are making their case.

Obviously, I am biased. Not only did I receive an invitation, but I also was the Editor of MuslimsForObama.com and so these debates about whether Obama is anti-Muslim and whether he deserves any support from the Muslim community are not new. What is new, however, is the unseemly and hostile tone of these attacks on the President and fellow Muslims, especially during Ramadan.

Is this the kind of language and behavior that characterizes our community? Is this type of rhetoric appropriate in Ramadan? I think not.

I believe that as a political community, we can and should have a debate on these issues. But the way to effect change is not to burn a bridge with the Administration, which is what the angry activists would have us do. Look at their arguments on the hashtag – they accuse the President of being a murderer and make sickening jokes about force-feeding the attendees at the iftar. This is a childish tantrum that delegitimizes the efforts by the community to gain influence and persuade the Administration of our perspectives. It undermines everything that the actual leaders of the Muslim community – not these self-styled moral scolds on Twitter – have been working for towards the actual betterment of our community for decades.

The reason that Presidents Bush and Obama hold these events is to meet ordinary Muslims face to face, hear our stories, and understand how we are a part of the fabric of America. It is why President Bush was the first to call Islam “a religion of Peace” after 9-11. It is why President Obama has included Muslim Americans in his Administration, including Farah Pandith and Rashad Hussain. Events like these Iftars are the reason why Obama spoke out against Terry Jones’ plan to burn the Qur’an, supported the Park 51 project, and defended the role of Muslim Americans during the State of the Union even as the Republicans were holding “witch-hunt” hearings about us on Capitol Hill. When it comes to the Muslim American community, President Obama has consistently emphasized our importance, rejected offensive terminology and Islamophobia, and made it clear that Islam rejects violent extremism.

Remember, Muslim Americans are Americans. Yes, we should be concerned and have a debate about drone strikes in Yemen and in Pakistan, but those are decisions that Obama made in the context of national security, which includes and benefits our community too. We cannot expect all of Obama’s governance to be made through the filter of our concerns. Obama is not just the President for Muslim Americans, but all Americans, and sometimes we are going to have to agree to disagree. That does not make us any less a part of America and it does not invalidate the very real efforts Obama has made to address our community and include us in the conversation about our life here.

We should be thankful this Ramadan that President Obama continues his outreach to our community. And we should disavow any self-styled leader of the Muslim community who acts in such a manner and publicly shames and embarasses us all.

Related: my post about why I supported Obama in 2012, and the 10 reasons to support Obama series at MuslimsForObama.com.



  • Pingback: The #WhiteHouseIftar controversy

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sheikh el Hani

    You are a fine example of what’s wrong with the Ummah.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Marium Mohiuddin

    Congrats on being invited. Engagement is key.

  • Pingback: A Call to Conscience: Boycotting the State Department and White House Ramadan Iftars | What Would Muhammad Do?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Qalander

    It’s disgusting how you’re participating in the shaming of Muslims who refuse to accept these invitations. Depicting them as “hostile” is not only a “holier-than-thou” argument, but also reinforces the dangerous “good Muslim/bad Muslim” dichotomy which continues to hurt our community.

    Shame on you for trying to vilify Muslims for the decisions they’re making against an administration that kills Muslims and other communities of color around the world.

    • Aziz Poonawalla

      I have not shamed anyone who refused to accept the invitation. The people I am quoting were not invited, and instead chose to shame those who DID accept the invitation. Also note that as I stated, I was not invited to the White House iftaar, only the State Dept Iftar, and I am unable to attend the latter.

  • Pingback: A Call to Conscience: Boycotting the State Department and White House Ramadan Iftars, by Omid Safi | Unfortunately, It Was Paradise

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Khadija Anderson

    Don’t be an apologist for Obama. He certainly approved ALL the things you listed and you forgot to mention HR347 which severely limits the rights of protestors in the US. Muslims should boycott the White House because of Obama’s foreign and US policies which affect way more than just Muslims.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Muneeb Khan

    For you to write that “it is because they are fundamentalist left-wing Muslims who see America as a great Satan.” is very wrong and demeaning. To stand-up or speakout against injustices, isn’t fundamentalism, it’s the American thing to do.

    Also, there are factual mistakes in this article. For one, it is myth that Obama was “stymied by Congress to close Gitmo”. http://www.salon.com/2012/07/23/the_obama_gitmo_myth/
    Second, his administration has approved the domestic spying and not spoken or taken action against it. There’s also this NSA spying scandal going-on. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/04/nypd-muslim-surveillance-justice-department-eric-holder

    Also, he slowly walked back his support for the Park51 project starting the very next day. To say that drone attacks “are decisions that Obama made in the context of national security, which includes and benefits our community too” is being ignored of the real consequences and hatred that comes out of it.

    Of course, I don’t expect Obama to speak out everytime injustice occurs against the Muslim-American community, but don’t tell me his policies haven’t gotten worse every year. What’s the point of outreach when he is himself is going to continue these unconstitutional and fear-mongering tactics against Muslims? Just b/c he doesn’t use rhetoric or Islamohophic language, doesn’t mean he isn’t part of the problem.

    Let me ask you this…During the Vietnam War, should Vietnamese-Americans have celebrated the Vietnamese New Year at the White House while constant bombings were occuring and thousandths of people suffering each day?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Farhan Memon

    Aziz you write:

    “and force-feeding of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay (which Obama did try to close but was stymied by Congress).”

    US district judge Gladys Kessler laid the matter of Guantanamo directly at Obama’s feet. In her ruling a couple of weeks ago she wrote: “there is an individual who does have the authority to address the issue”

    Saying that Congress is preventing Obama from releasing prisoners who are innocent is a falsehood. This ruling is also important because it underscores the principle of command responsibility. Obama is not only President, he is the Commander-in-Chief. Under International Law he is personally responsible for the treatment of these prisoners especially the forcefeeding they are undergoing.

    Under these circumstances what type of person would want to attend a dinner with someone who is personally torturing and killing other human beings. It is not an abstract charge this is what the President is actually doing.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Yousuf

    Salam Alaykum Aziz,

    All the benefits that you pointed to are symbolic.

    Do you deny the astronomical increase in drone strikes under his administration?

    If you don’t, then he is worse than Bush on this issue.

    What benefit has our community gained from attending these except good publicity?

    I’m not trying to be rude, just frank.

    Salam Alaykukm

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Your Name

    Disgusting article.

  • Pingback: Exposing and shaming the notion of "American Islam" - the greatest threat to Islam in the US today - Page 7

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Qalander

    Aziz – You most certainly shamed your fellow Muslims in this article. Look at the twitter images you posted and then look at your commentary. You assert a “holier-than-thou” attitude and then accuse them of not behaving “appropriately” during Ramadan. Who are you to judge? And how dare you make these statements against people who are speaking out against very real atrocities that are being carried out by the Obama administration? Regardless of what you say or how much you glorify America, you cannot deny the unjust murders of Muslims in U.S. wars, drone strikes, invasions, etc.

    You accuse us of being “fundamentalist left-wing Muslims who see America as a great Satan” as a way to reinforce the dangerous “good Muslim/bad Muslim” dichotomy which is so hurtful to our community. Don’t you see how you’re perpetuating Islamophobia here? Anyone who criticizes the Obama administration is suddenly a “fundamentalist left-wing Muslim”? This is SHAMING. This is being complicit with Islamophobia.

    But who cares that you’re vilifying your fellow Muslims, right? Go wave your American flag. Allah teaches us that nationalism is more important that the ummah, right? We should be grateful that drones are not shooting missiles on our heads, right? As long as we are safe and cozy here, it doesn’t matter what those other less fortunate Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia go through.

    Your article is beyond appalling.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment IRL Muslim

    Uncle Tom

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sardar KHAN

    All true muslims must decline this invitation from the terrorist murderers usa government and should boycott this event. Whoever attends this event will also be guilty of these killings of muslim peoples as well.

  • Pingback: Yasmine Hafiz: Why Some Muslims Are Boycotting The White House Iftar - SecularThought

  • Pingback: Why Muslims Should Skip the #WhiteHouseIftar | Stop Islamophobia Now!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment CQC

    Author of this article is a prime example of House Muslim in the West. I feel sorry for you, slave. How will you answer Allah on the Day of Judgment for your treachery against Islam.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment biz

    You really think obama does not have the authority to close down g bay? seriously?

  • Pingback: Ramadan Roundup

  • http://zakrulesn70@yahoo.co.uk Zakaria

    Shame on you. Your brothers rot in gitmo. Thousands of innocent muslims being drone bombed in Pakistan and you think it’s ok to dine with the people who allow such destruction?! I ask you one question. If it was your family members being bombed or imprisoned in gitmo…would you say you’re for obama? I don’t know how you will face Allah. Shame on you.

  • Pingback: BLOG: A Call to Conscience: Boycotting the State Department and White House Ramadan iftars | Toledo Faith & Values

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