President Obama to hold iftar dinner: Five facts about the Muslim ceremony

Continuing a tradition first started by one of the nation’s Founding Fathers, President Obama will host an iftar dinner Wednesday evening at 8:30 in the State Dining Room to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

3. Who started the White House iftar event?

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    President George W. Bush speaks to guests during an iftar dinner, breaking the Ramadan fast, in the State Dining Room at the White House on Oct. 17, 2005, in Washington.
    Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom/File
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Believe it or not, Thomas Jefferson hosted the first White House iftar. Mr. Obama referred to that historic iftar when he hosted his own White House iftar dinner in 2010.

“Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been a part of America,” Obama said. “The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan – making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago.”

The actual dinner took place precisely at sunset on Dec. 9, 1805, for Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, Tunisia’s Muslim envoy to the United States, who was visiting Washington for six months regarding a piracy dispute.

Though the practice quickly fell out of favor, first lady Hillary Clinton rekindled the tradition in 1996 by hosting a dinner to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan. And under President George W. Bush, the White House iftar became an annual ritual. Mr. Bush hosted eight iftar dinners during his eight years in office in an effort to reach out to Muslim Americans and emphasize that America was not at war with Islam.

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