Tillerson declines to host Ramzan celebration at State Department
According to US officials, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has broken the tradition by declining a request to host an event to mark the Islamic holy month of Ramzan. Since 1999, all Republican and Democratic secretaries of state have either been hosting an iftar dinner to break the day's fast or a reception to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the holy month's end.
Trump's shares fraught relationship with Muslims
During his presidential campaign, Trump had called for a temporary ban on all Muslims from entering the US. He also called for increased surveillance of mosques and considered shutting them down. He once warned that radical Islamists were "trying to take over our children." Trump's comments earned him criticism for promoting Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia. Trump has since toned down his rhetoric.
Why the State Department's event during Ramzan matters
In 1999, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright started the tradition for the State Department to host a public event for Ramzan. The event is attended by American lawmakers, Muslim civil society leaders, diplomats from Muslim countries. The event symbolizes the US' engagement with the Muslim world. During the event, the serving secretary of state usually gives remarks on the significance of Ramzan.
Tillerson was sent Ramzan event's request weeks ago
The State Department's Office of Religion and Global Affairs had in April sent Tillerson's office a request for him to deliver an address at an Eid al-Fitr reception sometime in July. The request said the event would be to "highlight State Department initiatives and the importance of Muslim engagement." Several weeks later, Tillerson declined the office's request.
Tillerson's decision could send wrong message to Muslims
Former US diplomat Farah Pandith, who helped plan Ramzan events during the Bush and Obama administrations, said Tillerson's decision could send the message "that it is not as important to this administration to engage with Muslims."
Muslim activists feel Trump administration has unfriendly attitude to Islam
The revelation comes amid allegations by Muslim activists that the Trump administration has an unfriendly attitude towards Islam especially following Trump's attempts to ban people from several predominantly-Muslim countries from entering America. The administration maintains that its opposition is to Islamist militants, not Islam as a whole. Trump's aides point to his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, as proof.