US secretary of state Rex Tillerson has declined to host a Ramadan reception, apparently breaking a nearly two-decade long bipartisan tradition.
According to two administration officials familiar with the decision, Tillerson rejected a request by the State Departments Office of Religion and Global Affairs to host the reception marking the Eid ul-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which began on Saturday in many countries.
Since 1999, Tillerson’s five Republican and Democratic predecessors have hosted either an Iftar dinner to break the fast during Ramadan, or an Eid ul-Fitr reception at the end of the month-long holiday, CNN reported.
Many diplomatic posts overseas also host events during Ramadan’s month of fasting and prayer.
The White House and State Department commemorate other religious traditions, including a Jewish Passover Seder, as well as Christmas and Easter holidays.
But the Ramadan event, usually attended by members of Congress, diplomats from Muslim countries, Muslim community leaders and top US officials has become a symbol of US efforts to engage with the Muslim world.
“We are still exploring possible options for observance of Eid ul-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan,” a State Department spokesman said.
“US ambassadors are encouraged to celebrate Ramadan through a variety of activities, which are held annually at missions around the world,” the spokesman said.
It is unclear whether Tillerson’s decision not to plan an event — which is usually put on the calendar weeks, if not months, in advance — was related to his ongoing streamlining of the agency, which includes massive budget cuts and shedding as many of 2,000 jobs.
Offices like the one dealing with religious outreach are widely expected to be scrapped as part of the restructuring, although no final decisions have been made.
On Friday, Tillerson had issued a statement marking the start of Ramadan, calling the holiday “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 added.
The statement starkly contrasted with one issued by President Donald Trump. While wishing Muslims a joyful Ramadan, the president referenced this weeks terrorist attack in Manchester, England, calling the bombing at a concert “directly contrary to the spirit” of the holiday.
“At its core, the spirit of Ramadan strengthens awareness of our shared obligation to reject violence, to pursue peace, and to give to those in need who are suffering from poverty or conflict,” Trumps statement had said.