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“If the State Department and other government agencies intend ... to use government facilities and taxpayer dollars to conduct religious observances for Islam, they should also provide the American public detailed information on equivalent religious observances,” she said. “The American people have a right to know that their government is reaching out to one religion more than others.”
The department began hosting Ramadan receptions under former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who held the first event in the form of an Iftar dinner in 1998.
While the department has also hosted numerous receptions aimed at honoring military personnel or various diplomats and their unique communities, a comprehensive search of press release archives showed that, unlike the annual Ramadan receptions, no other publicly announced receptions were tailored for any specific religious holiday.
“What is unique about the Eid reception is that it’s the Secretary’s opportunity to reach out to Muslim-American communities, which is not something she can normally do within her role,” Mogahed said.
Clinton showed serious dedication to Muslim outreach when she appointed Farah Pandith as the first Special Representative to Muslim Communities, said Stephen Grand, an expert on U.S.-Islamic world relations at the Brookings Institution.
“[Clinton] understood the important work that [Pandith] was doing” as a senior adviser on Muslim engagement for the Bush administration and “insisted” that she stay on in a specially created role, Grand said.
Pandith said her job is three-fold, with her responsibilities including government-to-government interaction, people-to-people engagement and understanding the Muslim demographic.
“We’re changing the narrative,” Pandith said. “It’s about moving from an incorrect narrative of an ‘us-them’ and talking about the narrative of an ‘us.’”
Difficulties arise, Pandith added, when the narrative is so often dictated by sound bites. Pandith said the case of Florida Pastor Terry Jones’ Quran-burning earlier this year, for instance, “challenged very publicly the importance of freedom and faith in our country.”
It is crucial, she said, to continue engaging with Muslims abroad and at home and to build partnerships and awareness.
“This leadership and this vision that [Clinton] brings to the table, the way she’s crafted this position, is really instructive,” said Pandith. “This is a leader for whom Muslim engagement is not new.”
Clinton’s Muslim outreach efforts date back to her days as first lady, when she held a White House Eid reception for about 150 guests in 1996 and credited her daughter Chelsea for teaching her about Islam. The event was the first of its kind at the White House. President George W. Bush later cemented the tradition, hosting a Ramadan reception every year of his term in office.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Clinton appointed a young Muslim policy guru, Huma Abedin, as her deputy chief of staff. Abedin, a former White House intern who is fluent in Arabic and Urdu, currently serves as Clinton’s top aide. She was recently propelled into the public eye after an Internet scandal that led her husband, former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner (D), to resign in June.