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Islam and Politics ( 24 Jul 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Iftar Wars: To Attend or Not To Attend



By Sheila Musaji

Jul 24, 2013

In previous years, the White House Iftar Provoked the Islamophobic Lunatic Fringe.  This year there is a very different group objecting to the White House Iftar, the State Dept. Iftar, and in fact Muslims attending any government sponsored Iftars.

Two articles with different points of view lay out the basic arguments, and seem to have been the first two to open this discussion.  The first, by Omid Safi A Call to Conscience: Boycotting the State Department and White House Ramadan Iftars calls for Muslims to boycott the Iftar until U.S. Government Policies change.  The second, by Aziz Poonawala Honored to be invited to the State Department Iftar – and grateful for the #WhiteHouseIftar lays out reasons he believes Muslims should continue to interact.

Both of these articles are reasoned positions and open a debate.  They both make points worth considering.  Opening a discussion on the pros and cons of attending such events is useful, although opening that discussion at the last minute is not going to make any difference one way or another for this year’s Iftar’s.

The discussion began in a civil manner, and Omid Safi even included this statement in his article:

“I should mention that disagreement among scholars and leaders is always seen in Islam as a sign of mercy from God.  I do not intend to cast any aspersion upon the character of those who do decide to attend.  Whether they choose to do so or not is their own business, something between their own conscience and God.  If they choose to attend, I have no doubt that they have weighed it in their own conscience and decided that the collective communal benefit of attending outweighs the negatives.  That is their business.”

However, the discussion On Facebook and twitter, and on some blogs in response to these articles has become strident and judgmental, and has in some cases descended to name calling and insults.  Names like “house Muslim”, “traitors”,  and other egregious comments are being thrown around with no context.  This is inappropriate and truly surprising coming from some individuals who have themselves been on the receiving end of such baseless slurs in the past, and should know better.  Twitter is limited to 140 characters, not enough to spell out a coherent argument, pro or con.  If those who are angry about the decision of others want to contribute to a reasonable discussion, perhaps they should write a cogent article explaining their reasoning, and post the link on social media.  There are perfectly valid arguments on both sides of this issue.  Name calling doesn’t advance any argument.

That this discussion has become so bitter is very problematic, especially when Muslims have struggled so hard for so many years in order to have their voices heard.  There is a full time Islamophobia industry engaged in a concerted effort to marginalize American Muslim civic participation.  To attack those who are attempting to build bridges, forge relationships, and open channels of communication in such a spiteful manner is destructive for the entire community.

The strident argument is now getting International attention.  Al Jazeera posted #WhiteHouseIftar:  US Muslims call for boycott of government-sponsored Ramadan celebrations which includes some of the tweets under that hashtag.

Shahed Amanullah posted this statement:

In an hour, 200 people will be joining me at the State Department for Secretary Kerry’s iftar dinner. Those Americans who are attending represent the best of both America and the Muslim community - committed changemakers who have invested in their communities, bridge builders healing rifts between faiths, social entrepreneurs whose work has changed the lives of thousands. A large number of our guests are young social activists who have many years of work ahead of them. This tradition has helped cement the bonds between government and stakeholders who are committed to diplomacy, outreach, and public service, and I’m proud to help organize it this year.

Haris Tarin, one of those directly attacked posted the following on Facebook:

Why I am attending the Iftar at the White House!

“I was asked by some friends to comment on the trend of calling out American Muslims who are attending the Iftar at the White House. Here is why I am attending the @whitehouseiftar and I’ll make it short because I have to get back to my oped against Ray Kelly becoming the next Sec. of DHS.

First, I was taught by two great individuals, Dr. Maher Hathout and Sh. Abdullah bin Bayyiah, that it is not who you meet with, it’s your integrity in the meeting and the context that is important.

I am attending the White House Iftar because I received an invitation from my President, I will also be attending the briefing a couple hours before the iftar that will focus on serious policy issues including Gitmo, Syria, Egypt and Drones.

I will also be attending the Iftar at the State Department with Sec. Kerry — even though just yesterday my colleague Hoda Elshishtawy was at a State Dept meeting and conference critiquing policies on religious freedom and violent extremism.

I will also be attending the DHS Iftar with Sec. Napolitano — even though yesterday I went on record at the Huffington Post critiquing the TSA’s Ramadan message about American Muslims directed at the DHS.

I also attended the Iftar at the Pentagon with American Muslims in the Armed Services to ensure that they have a place to practice their faith freely.

And for those friends who have taken to twitter and Facebook with rude and outlandish messages about those of us who leave our families every night and ensure that we build the relationships that will hopefully allow us to impact policy one day, even though I vehemently disagree with you, I defend your right to be rude and call me a house Muslim or uncle Tom, because that is what makes our faith and country so great, and if you want to know what we are doing on Gitmo, Drones and everything else, you can ask rather than remain uninformed! If anyone wants, we can give you our Iftar itinerary for the month so that you know exactly whom we are having a meal with.”

I can’t help but wonder what exactly prompted such an angry discussion this particular year.  These Iftar’s have been going on since 2001, and I don’t remember ever seeing this sort of discussion previously.