WASHINGTON DC – This year, United States President Barack Obama broke from tradition and celebrated Eidul Fitr with American Muslims at the White House, instead of hosting his usual annual Iftar dinner.
Hundreds of Muslims were invited to the reception, including Ahmed Ali Akbar, who documented the event with countless selfies. In his words, the event helped solve “the issues facing American Muslims one cheesy smile at a time.”
Initially, Akbar considered not attending the event. He revealed, “I have never been too involved in politics — I am terrified of Republican fear-mongering tactics, but I don’t quite trust the Democrats either. In 2014, I followed the boycott of the White House Iftar pretty closely.”
In fact, Akbar had a number of concerns regarding America’s policy towards the Muslim world, which made him think hard about what attending the Eid event would mean.
“I was disturbed by the White House’s complicity and/or silence on Guantanamo, NSA spying on Muslim American leaders, drone strikes, Israeli attacks in Gaza, and more. Like the boycotters in 2014, I was worried that going to this event might seem like an endorsement of military action throughout the Muslim world,” he said.
However, his father urged him to be neutral and convinced him to attend the event, which he eventually did.
Akbar seemed surprised by how thoughtful arrangements for the event were. “The first thing I was greeted with, besides the usual White House stuff, was Thomas Jefferson’s personal Holy Quran,” he explained.
He was also surprised by the entertainment being provided at the event: “After this, there was something completely unexpected: a live band, playing Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan covers.”
They're playing qawwali fusion on the way into the White House Eid celebration lol pic.twitter.com/sHFTQUfpxK
— ahmed ali akbar (@radbrowndads) July 21, 2016
He then walked into the room where Obama was set to speak, which was totally packed.
A few introductory speakers took the stage, including Zaki Barzinji, the White House liaison to Muslim Americans and one of the organizers of the event. A few young Muslim American women also spoke and read the Holy Quran and letters they had written to President Obama.
Then Obama made a speech praising Ms Marvel, the comic book character, for showcasing Muslim characters outside of the security narrative. He also shared the story of Heba and Rahaf Alrahawan, two Syrian refugees who moved to Brooklyn four months ago.
Ahmed also shared the tense moment when an audience member interjected “Syria!” while Obama was listing locations afflicted by violence this Ramazan.
In response to this, Obama said, “And Syria — I was getting to Syria, but — well, look, I mean, the brutal images and suffering that are taking place there are heartbreaking. And so the message has to be sent that we will stand with our friends and our allies around the world, including Muslim communities; that we will engage with those who want peace; that we will go after those who will harm innocents; that we will encourage dialogue not just between faiths, but oftentimes within the Muslim faith itself, which has driven violence in some parts of the world.”
Obama concluded: “And in the face of terrorism, we will prevail. But we will prevail by working together, not driving each other apart.”
Regarding the audience member’s interruption to the speech, Ahmed said, “I understood it as a reference to the over 70 civilians killed by US airstrikes in Manbij, which I had hoped the President would address.”
Although Ahmed did not get the opportunity to speak with Obama, he took another “cheesy” picture at his podium and left.
“Regardless of my complicated feelings towards the event, it was great seeing so many Muslim leaders who have, in their own way, tried to change the world. But it was also bittersweet, given the current tense political climate around immigration and American Muslims,” said Ahmed.
“Muslim Americans are as patriotic, as integrated, as American as any other members of the American family,” Obama said at a White House reception to celebrate the Muslim Eid-ul- Fitr holiday.
“Whether your family has been here for generations or you’re a new arrival, you’re an essential part of the fabric of our country,” he said.
While not naming Trump specifically, Obama said that discriminatory policies against Muslims are an affront the “values that already make our nation great.”
“Singling out Muslim Americans, moreover, feeds the lie of terrorists like ISIL, that the West is somehow at war with a religion that includes over a billion adherents,” Obama said, using an acronym for the Islamic State militant group. “That’s not smart national security.”