Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has declined to host an event that celebrates the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the White House, breaking nearly two decades of tradition, according to Reuters.
According to two officials, Tillerson denied a request by the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs to host the annual Eid al-Fitr reception, which marks the end of Ramadan (May 27-June 24).
The tradition of hosting either an Iftar dinner to break the fast during Ramadan, or an Eid al-Fitr reception, is a bipartisan tradition since 1999 that has typically been seen as a symbol of America’s diplomatic efforts with the Muslim world. It is attended by members of Congress, top U.S. officials, and Muslim diplomats from around the world.
Tillerson’s decision does not mean that the administration will not necessarily mark Ramadan in other ways.
“We are still exploring possible options for observance of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan,” a State Department spokesman told Reuters. “U.S. ambassadors are encouraged to celebrate Ramadan through a variety of activities, which are held annually at missions around the world.”
Tillerson issued a statement on Friday calling Ramadan “a month of reverence, generosity, and self-reflection.”
“Most importantly, it is a cherished time for family and friends to gather and give charity to those who are less fortunate. This time reminds us all of the common values of harmony and empathy we hold dear,” he said.
It is possible that the Eid al-Fitr event was not scheduled due to Tillerson’s planned State Department budget cuts that were expected to shed 2,000 jobs. The cuts were meant to streamline the State Department, and were expected to shut down some departments, such as those that dealt with religious matters.
According to former U.S. diplomat Farah Pandith, Tillerson’s refusal to hold a Eid al-Fitr reception could send the message “that it is not as important to this administration to engage with Muslims.”