August 10th, 2011
10:13 AM ET
Tonight is President Obama’s 3rd time to host an Iftar dinner.
The term Iftar refers to the meal at the end of the day during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when people break their daily fast. Ramadan began on August 1st. Each year the president has invited guests that include religious and grass-roots leaders in the Muslim-American community as well as leaders of other faiths and elected officials.
The first White House Iftar dinner was hosted by President Thomas Jefferson. On December 9, 1805, Jefferson hosted “Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, an envoy from the bey (chieftain) of Tunis who spent six months in Washington. The context of Mellimelli’s visit to the United States was a tense dispute over piracy on American merchant vessels by the Barbary states and the capture of Tunisian vessels trying to run an American blockade of Tripoli. Mellimelli arrived during Ramadan, and Jefferson, when he invited the envoy to the president’s house, changed the meal time from the usual hour of 3:30 p.m. to “precisely at sunset” in deference to the man’s religious obligation. Jefferson’s knowledge of Islam likely came from his legal studies of natural law. In 1765, Jefferson purchased a two-volume English translation of the Quran for his personal library, a collection that became, in 1815, the basis of the modern Library of Congress.”
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