Mar 15, 2024 - News

Muslim leaders and organizations to boycott Houston Iftar

Illustration of an empty plate with a red rim, wearing a red mayoral sash tied around it diagonally creating a "No" symbol.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Muslim leaders and organizations are refusing to attend the 25th annual Houston Iftar and are calling for a boycott of the event if Mayor John Whitmire is still invited and serves as the keynote speaker.

Why it matters: Houston has a significant Muslim population, and the annual iftar party, which commemorates the breaking of fast during Ramadan, is a longstanding tradition between the city's Muslim community and the mayor's office.

Driving the news: More than 40 Muslim leaders and organizations signed an open letter asking the event's organizing committee to "rescind any invitations" to Whitmire and other elected city officials and leaders who have "failed to call for a ceasefire" in Gaza.

  • The letter, signed by organizations like the Muslims United Political Action Committee and the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Houston Chapter, says that by inviting those elected officials, the organizers are "inadvertently condoning their silence and inaction" and that it "undermines reconciliation efforts."
  • The letter states that if the organizers do not rescind the invitation, the groups will "be pulling all support and backing" from the event.

The latest: Whitmire is still expected to attend the event. Spokesperson Mary Benton told Chron that the mayor is looking forward to attending and "being a unifying presence at the dinner."

Zoom in: CAIR-Houston, which has regularly attended the annual event and has often chaired the committee leading it, announced Thursday that it had officially withdrawn from the iftar, along with 20 other Muslim and Arab community organizations.

  • Al Noor Masjid was the first organization to pull from the event in mid-February. "We were the pioneers. We started the iftar 25 years ago" Imad Gire, a leader within the mosque, said. He said the mosque refuses to participate this year due to Whitmire's stance.
  • The Islamic Society of Greater Houston, one of the largest Islamic organizations in the country, also will not attend, despite being a participant for 24 years. It asked to be removed from the marketing materials.

The organizers and the mayor's office did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

  • Last month, Whitmire's office also declined to respond to Axios' request for comment on a ceasefire. He supported the Texas Senate resolution that backed Israel last year and said he looked forward to leading a delegation to Israel as mayor, according to Houston Landing.

Background: People supporting Palestinians have been urging the city council and the mayor to call for a ceasefire, making regular statements at the public comment sessions. Five city council members have now called for a ceasefire.

Of note: William White, the director of CAIR-Houston, tells Axios that the iftar is a long-standing celebration and there was not a call to cancel the event but said that "it doesn't have to be the Houston Mayor's Iftar, it can be the Houston Iftar."

Context: Ramadan this year coincides with Israel's ongoing strikes on Gaza, where a quarter of the population is close to famine, according to United Nations officials, Axios' Aïda Amer reports.

Flashback: ​​Last year, around 2,300 people attended the event dubbed the Mayor's Iftar, and the Houston Iftar website touted it as the largest iftar dinner event of its kind in the country.

What's next: The Houston Iftar is this Sunday at the Bayou City Event Center.

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