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I Was Invited To The White House Eid Reception And Here's What Happened

Solving the issues facing American Muslims one cheesy smile at a time.

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So, for the past few years, President Obama has invited a small group of Muslim leaders to a White House iftar. This year, they opted for an Eid Reception instead.

White House Social Office

They invited hundreds of people, and so that meant my worthless ass was invited somehow.

Ahmed Ali Akbar

Initially, I considered not going.

I have never been too involved in politics — I am terrified of Republican fear-mongering tactics, but I don't quite trust the Democrats either. In 2014, I followed the boycott of the White House iftar pretty closely. I was disturbed by the White House's complicity and/or silence on Guantanamo, NSA spying on Muslim American leaders, drone strikes, Israeli attacks in Gaza, and more. Like the boycotters in 2014, I was worried that going to this event might seem like an endorsement of military action throughout the Muslim world.

In the end, my father convinced me to go.

"You're a journalist now," he said. "You have to be neutral. It may feel like you're endorsing policies you don't agree with, but what other people think isn't a good enough reason to reject the invitation." Not pictured: the actual moment where this conversation happened.
Athar Usmani

"You're a journalist now," he said. "You have to be neutral. It may feel like you're endorsing policies you don't agree with, but what other people think isn't a good enough reason to reject the invitation."

Not pictured: the actual moment where this conversation happened.

So, I boarded a morning Amtrak and off I went. I was late, because I have never learned to be anything else.

Also, my snapchats are full of typos because I have kabab fingers.
Ahmed Ali Akbar

Also, my snapchats are full of typos because I have kabab fingers.

Thankfully, so was everyone else. This was the line outside at 3:30 PM, a full hour after the invite said to show up.

Muslims, am I right?
Ahmed Ali Akbar

Muslims, am I right?

Anyway, after a bunch of security, I was in. I resolved to take as many unnecessary selfies as possible.

Ahmed Ali Akbar

The first thing I was greeted with, besides the usual White House stuff, was Thomas Jefferson's personal Qur'an.

Ahmed Ali Akbar

The hallway following this was filled with photos of Obama's various outreach efforts to Muslims in the US and abroad.

Ahmed Ali Akbar

Including the 2010 White House iftar, on the far left.

Peep the "Muslim Girls Hoop Too" shirt.

Ahmed Ali Akbar

After this, there was something completely unexpected: a live band, playing Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan covers.

They're playing qawwali fusion on the way into the White House Eid celebration lol

Bunch of stylish dudes, am I right?

I later found out the guy in the blue jacket was singer Zeshan Bagewadi.
Ahmed Ali Akbar

I later found out the guy in the blue jacket was singer Zeshan Bagewadi.

After that, it was time to explore the various White House artifacts. We were pretty much given free reign of the East Wing.

Ahmed Ali Akbar

Along the way, I met some long-lost college friends.

Ahmed Ali Akbar
Ahmed Ali Akbar

I also ran into a bunch of people I've written stories about, like Taz Ahmed of the #GoodMuslimBadMuslim podcast and #MuslimVday...

Ahmed Ali Akbar

...and Donna Auston of #BlackMuslimRamadan.

Ahmed Ali Akbar

Regardless of your feelings on the event, the invite list featured an incredibly diverse list of Muslims involved in activism, sports, politics, media, and so much more.

They ALSO served diverse food from around the Muslim world. There were grape leaves...

Ahmed Ali Akbar

...hummus and baba....

Ahmed Ali Akbar

...biryani (with no meat???)....

Ahmed Ali Akbar

...Maghrebi chicken and lamb...

Ahmed Ali Akbar

...and gulab jamun, which no one ate.

Truly an injustice. #boycottwhitehouseeid2016
Ahmed Ali Akbar

Truly an injustice. #boycottwhitehouseeid2016

I found a glass of red colored liquid and desperately hoped it was the classic Pakistani drink, rooh afzah. It was not.

Ahmed Ali Akbar

It was fruit punch or something.

I settled for a classic cup of black tea with milk in some fancy White House china.

Ahmed Ali Akbar

I walked into the room where Obama was set to speak. It was totally packed and very sweaty.

Ahmed Ali Akbar

A few introductory speakers took the stage, including Zaki Barzinji, the White House liaison to Muslim Americans and one of the organizers of the event, as well as a few young Muslim American women who read Qur'an and letters they had written to President Obama.

You can read President Obama's full remarks here or watch the full video here, but he covered a wide variety of topics. He addressed Muslim servicemen and the history of Muslims in America...

.@POTUS now talking about how Muslim Americans have always been part of American history and society.

...praised Ms. Marvel, the comic book character, for showcasing Muslim characters outside of the security narrative...

Obama recognizing @MiniB622, @GWillowWilson for developing Muslim characters outside the security narrative

...and shared the story of Heba and Rahaf Alrahawan, two Syrian refugees who moved to Brooklyn four months ago.

Obama telling the story of two Syrian refugees in America at White House Eid Reception.

In the most tense moment of his speech, an audience member interjected "Syria!" while Obama was listing locations afflicted by violence this Ramadan.

THE PRESIDENT: despite what you may sometime hear, you’ve got to know that you’re a valued part of the American family, and there’s nothing that you cannot do. (Applause.)

So during what was a difficult Ramadan, where we saw hundreds of innocent lives taken in Istanbul and Dhaka, and Baghdad and Medina, as well as in Orlando and Nice --

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Syria.

THE PRESIDENT: And Syria -- I was getting to Syria, but -- well, look, I mean, the brutal images and suffering that are taking place there are heartbreaking. And so the message has to be sent that we will stand with our friends and our allies around the world, including Muslim communites; that we will engage with those who want peace; that we will go after those who will harm innocents; that we will encourage dialogue not just between faiths, but oftentimes within the Muslim faith itself, which has driven violence in some parts of the world.

And in the face of terrorism, we will prevail. But we will prevail by working together, not driving each other apart. (Applause.)

In an event filled with celebration of Muslim American leadership, this moment really stuck with me. I understood it as a reference to the over 70 civilians killed by US airstrikes in Manbij, which I had hoped the President would address.

Obama finished up his remarks and the crowd thinned out. I did not have an opportunity to speak with him.

I took a cheesy picture at his podium and left.

Ahmed Ali Akbar

Regardless of my complicated feelings towards the event, it was great seeing so many Muslim leaders who have, in their own way, tried to change the world. But it was also bittersweet, given the current tense political climate around immigration and American Muslims.

Eh, at least I took some great selfies.

Ahmed Ali Akbar

P.S. If you are interested in reading some other people's takes on the Eid Reception, take a look the #ObamaNationEidParty hashtag.

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