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Ellison, Carson Among Attendees at White House Iftar

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Rep. Keith Ellison attended the White House iftar for the first time in 2007 and will return Wednesday evening.

Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and André Carson (D-Ind.) will attend President Barack Obama’s White House iftar on Wednesday evening, the daily meal when Muslims break their fasts during the holy month of Ramadan.

The dinner will take place after sunset, in observance of Islamic custom.

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, attended the White House iftar for the first time in 2007, when it was hosted by President George W. Bush.

“My favorite iftars are the ones with my family, but I also think that in a country with such diversity, there has been a tradition to honor all faiths, including Muslims,” Ellison said. “I recognize our constitutional separation of church and state, but at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with a holiday message or a holiday dinner.”

Carson, also Muslim, attended the White House dinner last year and said that although he enjoyed Bush’s iftar dinners in the past, he thinks Obama’s dinners have been more welcoming.

“I think President Obama’s approach is different, given his worldview and given his multicultural background. He recognizes that Muslims are an important constituency,” Carson said. “I think we’re moving in a better place ... under leadership that is visionary enough not to ostracize.”

President Thomas Jefferson held the first known White House iftar in 1805, when he planned a sunset dinner for Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, Tunisia’s Muslim envoy to the United States.

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. But it wasn’t until Bush’s election that the White House iftars became an annual ritual. Bush hosted eight iftar dinners, one during every year he was in office, in an effort to reach out to Muslim-Americans and stress that America was not at war with Islam.

Obama expects 120 guests, including elected officials, religious and grass-roots leaders in the Muslim-American community, and leaders of various faiths. Past attendees have included Mahmoud Eboo of the Aga Khan Council of the United States; Dalia Mogahed, the director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies; and Farah Pandith, the State Department’s special representative to Muslim communities.

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