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US Muslims upset over Trump’s Ramadan message

posted on: May 28, 2017

US Muslims upset over Trump’s Ramadan message
President Donald Trump addresses U.S military troops and their families at the Sigonella Naval Air Station, in Sigonella, Italy, Saturday, May 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

By: Rob Crilly
Source: The National

Donald Trump has sparked anger among American Muslims by using his Ramadan message to raise the issue of terrorism and remind the world of a shared obligation to reject violence.

While previous American presidents have used their position to express solidarity with those of different faiths and to highlight shared spiritual values, Mr Trump peppered his statement with references to acts of terror.

“At its core, the spirit of Ramadan strengthens awareness of our shared obligation to reject violence, to pursue peace, and to give to those in need who are suffering from poverty or conflict,” he said.

“This year, the holiday begins as the world mourns the innocent victims of barbaric terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and Egypt, acts of depravity that are directly contrary to the spirit of Ramadan. Such acts only steel our resolve to defeat the terrorists and their perverted ideology.”

The words brought immediate condemnation across social media by critics who said they were astonished by the use of such language to mark the start of Islam’s holy month.

Jibril Hough, a community activist in Charlotte, North Carolina, said rather than using Ramadan to build bridges, Mr Trump had used it to lecture Muslims.

“This is like spitting on our holiday. It is very offensive and disrespectful. He would not do that to any other faith,” he said.

Mr Trump campaigned on a platform to ban foreign Muslims from entering the US in response to the threat from ISIL.

He has also delighted in using the term “radical Islamic terrorism” which he insists is the best way to describe the dangers but which critics say risks conflating an entire religion with the acts of a small number of people.

However, some detected a more moderate stance last week when the US president spoke in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, substituting the term “Islamist terror” and emphasising the shared values of the world’s major religions.

In his Ramadan message, he repeated only one strand of his Riyadh speech – the idea of fighting against terrorists.

“America will always stand with our partners against terrorism and the ideology that fuels it,” he said. “During this month of Ramadan, let us be resolved to spare no measure so that we may ensure that future generations will be free of this scourge and able to worship and commune in peace.”

Abed Ayoub, legal director of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, said it marked a return to Mr Trump’s familiar position of viewing Islam only through the prism of national security.

“Even under George W Bush the Ramadan message was a little more welcoming but this one was just out of touch and shows the administration’s view that Islam equals terrorism. It was not a message about spirituality, it was more of a message about terrorism,” he said.

“He would have been better off not making a message.”

In a further blow to community relations it emerged that the State Department is not planning to hold any Ramadan events.

Reuters reported that Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, declined a request to host an Eid Al Fitr reception, suggesting there will be no celebrations to mark the holy month breaking a tradition honoured for almost 20 years – with few exceptions – since it was initiated by Madeleine Albright.

In the past the state department has held iftars and hosted Eid dinners for Muslim leaders invited from across the US.

Mansoor Shams, a former serviceman who travels around the US as the “Muslim Marine” educating the wider American public on Islam, said he was taken aback by the state department’s decision.

“They are supposed to be a non-partisan organisation representing all of America. This is a 20-year tradition. What are we saying, what direction are we headed in when we can’t recognise a faith that’s held by 1.7 billion-plus people in the world,” he said.

A spokesman for the state department said it was “still exploring possible options for observance of Eid Al Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan”.

“US ambassadors are encouraged to celebrate Ramadan through a variety of activities, which are held annually at missions around the world.”