Iftar and City Hall: Separation of Mosque and State?

As Muslims observed the month of Ramadan this year, more city halls were full partners in hosting and promoting religious Iftar dinners. This year Philadelphia and Atlanta sponsored a ceremonial dinner to mark the end of Ramadan fasting in their respective city halls. Bloomington, in Minnesota, co-sponsored an Iftar and invited public employees to learn “about Ramadan and the significance of its 27th night and what it means to Muslims.”

In Fort Wayne, Indiana, the annual dinner is called the “Mayor’s Iftar.” Houston Muslims produced a large Iftar event for about 1,700 guests and featured the mayor as keynote speaker. Texas Governor Greg Abbott greeted attendees by video link to recognize the celebration of “peace, respect, and unity.”

In Minnesota, the city of Bloomington’s Human Rights Commission sent the Iftar invitations to civic employees and even suggested that women should conform to Islamic religious dress code rules (this instruction was deleted after complaints were circulated). The city’s human rights division provided an official email address for processing reservations.

Contrary to the perception that these civic-sponsored Iftars are communal dinners and cultural experiences,they were embedded with worshipful practices. Imams offered religious platitudes and exhortations both in Arabic (for benefit of Muslims) and English. The adhan, call to prayer or call to worship, was recited including the words as translated from Arabic: “I bear witness that there is no god except the One God (Allah)” and “I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

Obvious legal questions arise when a religious event is government-hosted, government employees are issued official invitations, the event is sited on city property, or when government recommends religious modesty rules. All of these items seem to fly in the face of Supreme Court rulings suggesting government may not endorse a sect or religion and may not participate with a faith group to the point that an observer would perceive that the government was favoring or sponsoring that religion. The generous partnership in these Iftar events certainly looks like the “excessive government entanglement” that courts love to criticize when it is Christian entanglement at issue.

But beyond legal concerns, government officials should pay close attention to connections that hosts or speakers have with Muslim Brotherhood organizations. Houston’s Iftar was co-sponsored by Islamic Relief, a large worldwide charity known for supporting extremism and terrorism. Javaid Siddiqi, the national president of Islamic Circle of North America—an organization that promotes supremacist Islamism—spoke from the podium and was a prominent part of Houston’s program.

But an even better threshold to official participation is to consider one simple question—a question so apparent that any elected official should know its criticality: Are any of America’s great reformist Muslims participating? Have Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, Dr. Qanta Ahmed, Asra Nomani, Raheel Raza, or Tawfik Hamid—all Muslims who have signed a declaration in support of American constitutional rights of conscience and individual liberty—been asked to participate?

When our political leaders endorse Islamist events where the organizers embrace elements of sharia extremism while shunning pro-American Muslims, politicians undermine their own credibility and undercut the very Muslims who most need the imprimatur of official recognition.

President Trump set the example this year when he hosted an Iftar that included a host of dignitaries from Islamic countries but did not invite American Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers.

Islamists have gained full staging rights by leveraging labels of inclusiveness and tolerance to local officials. They are now reaching into the political parties to influence policy positions and potential candidates.

Recently the Minnesota Republican Liberty Caucus held its annual convention at a known radical mosque near Minneapolis, Dar al Farooq. The libertarian Republicans also invited an imam to keynote the event and a representative from the mosque to address “misconceptions about Islam.”

The Republicans enthusiastically applauded the two invited religious propagandists as they strained to credit early Muslim scholarship for the writing of the Declaration of Independence and to explain that sharia shares the same religious character as canon law. The audience provided no challenge to these narratives and there was no rebuttal to correctly assert the Scottish-English Enlightenment philosophers as the source of America’s Judeo-Christian founding principles.

Islamists play a zero sum game. The demands made of schools, libraries, and city halls do not result in greater exposure for all religions. City halls are not also hosting and promoting Jewish Passover Seder dinners. The revisionist pages in school textbooks positively feature Islam and its history to the diminution of Westernism and Christianity. Islamic religious indoctrination in schools does not lead to equal time for the tenets of any other religion. City councils that preside over mosque building permit hearings command local residents to refrain from using words like “Islam” or “Muslim” in an unconstitutional display of viewpoint discrimination. The same city officials are not known for being equally solicitous of Christian or Jewish sensibilities. Many more entries could be made to this list of privileges that Islamists enjoy.

When Islamists come to the public square with the “my way or the highway” agenda, Zuhdi Jasser calls them, “supremacists.” These Islamists are bent on accomplishing symbolic institutional celebration of Islam and an untouchable status for Muslims in minds of Americans. America’s communities and their leaders should start asking some vital questions before naively agreeing to preferential, and potentially unconstitutional, Islamist demands.

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About Karen Lugo

Karen Lugo, author of Mosques in America: A Guide to Accountable Permit Hearings and Continuing Citizen Oversight and expert consultant to the mentioned Sterling Heights litigation.