The establishment media became upset this weekend after President Donald Trump canceled the “White House Muslim Iftar Dinner tradition started by Thomas Jefferson.” But the media is wrong in every respect. Thomas Jefferson never held any Iftar dinner and only three out of 45 presidents ever hosted one, so there is no such “tradition” to cancel.
Amy B. Wang of the Washington Post led the pack with this nonsense that Thomas Jefferson held the “first Iftar dinner” with a June 24 piece entitled, “Trump just ended a long tradition of celebrating Ramadan at the White House.”
The often-used claim that Thomas Jefferson held the first Iftar dinner at the White House was trotted out by the Post’s Wang. She recounted the time when the diplomatic envoy from the Bey of Tunis, Sidi Soliman Melli Melli, visited Washington during Ramadan in 1805.
Jefferson invited the envoy to the White House for dinner at 3:30 PM—the time most Washingtonians had dinner in those days. But after he sent the invitation he was told that Melli Melli could not partake of a meal until after sunset because of Ramadan. Thomas Jefferson was faced with two choices: cancel the dinner entirely or simply have the meal later in the evening at a time when his guest could attend. As a good host and a decent person, Jefferson chose the latter.
In fact, all Jefferson did was change the time of his meal. He had no intention of honoring Islam. Jefferson simply was not honoring the religion of “the Musselmen”—as he termed Muslims at the time—when he changed the time of the meal. Also, there is no evidence that Jefferson asked Melli Melli what sort of food a “Musselman” would eat, so no special food was prepared to suit a Muslim’s religious needs. Jefferson neither inquired about religious accommodations nor was any made. All he did was move the time of the meal as a courtesy.
Further, Jefferson sent no letters containing proclamations about the meal being an Iftar dinner nor mentioning Islam, he never mentioned such honors in his private papers, and there is no record that he spoke to anyone about his intentions to honor the Muslim practice of an Iftar dinner.
To the Post’s Wang, that Jefferson had a dinner at all was somehow proof positive that he invented a “tradition” of some sort. As “proof” that it was an Iftar dinner, Wang quoted the words of liberal historian John Ragosta who gave the scintillating argument, “Yeah, it sounds to me like an Iftar dinner.”
Wang went on to insist there has been a “modern tradition” of having an Iftar dinner at the White House. But in truth, only three presidents in all of American history ever held an Iftar dinner.
Bill Clinton held the first one, a politically motivated dinner aimed at peeling Muslim voters away from the GOP, since at the time the growing Muslim-American community leaned toward becoming a Republican constituency.
George W. Bush, in a diplomatic effort, followed Clinton’s practice of holding Iftar dinners because he wanted to prove that the U.S. wasn’t looking to go to war with all of Islam in the wake of the attacks on 9/11/2001 and the subsequent implementation of the war on terror.
Naturally, Barack Obama held them because he had a personal connection to Islam through his childhood, growing up in Indonesia and raised during that time as a Muslim.
But three presidents out of 45 does not make a “tradition.”
In her ahistorical article, Wang also quotes John Quincy Adams who expressed “with an air of fascination” his dinner with the Tunisian envoy, but quotes Adams without also noting that the president thought Islam was a terrible and brutal creed.
What Adams thought about Islam is instructive. For instance, he described Islam as a religion of hate in a piece he wrote in the late 1820s:
The natural hatred of the Mussulmen towards the infidels is in just accordance with the precepts of the Koran. … The fundamental doctrine of the Christian religion is the extirpation of hatred from the human heart. It forbids the exercise of it, even towards enemies. … In the 7th century of the Christian era, a wandering Arab … spread desolation and delusion over an extensive portion of the earth. … He declared undistinguishing and exterminating war as a part of his religion. … The essence of his doctrine was violence and lust, to exalt the brutal over the spiritual part of human nature.
Other prominent Americans at the time also disparaged Islam.
The father of American jurisprudence, Justice Joseph Story, throughly slammed Islam:
Mahomet aimed to establish his pretensions to divine authority, by the power of the sword and the terrors of his government; while he carefully avoided any attempts at miracles in the presence of his followers, and all pretences to foretell things to come. His acknowledging the divine mission of Moses and Christ confirms their authority as far as his influence will go while their doctrines entirely destroy all his pretensions to the like authority. … And now, where is the comparison between the supposed prophet of Mecca, and the Son of God; or with what propriety ought they to be named together? …The difference between these characters is so great, that the facts need not be further applied.
Jefferson’s dinner is neither a sure thing nor a “perhaps.” President Thomas Jefferson simply did not hold any Iftar dinner in the White House, nor did he intend to honor Islam that day. To claim that the very first president to authorize war against Muslims would have hosted a dinner to honor Islam is an absurdity of the first order.
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