The American president is not the only Western leader to have used the holy month to counter the impression of being hostile to Islam. In 2015, Canada’s then Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, became the first leader of his country to host an iftar: this was despite the widespread perception that his party was playing to anti-Muslim sentiment by, for example, banning face veils during citizenship ceremonies. His Liberal successor, Justin Trudeau, has been even warmer in his acknowledgement of Ramadan. In one of the first messages issued by a Western leader this year, he said the fast “honours the values at the heart of Islam, like compassion and service to others”.
In constitutionally secular France, the head of state could hardly stage anything remotely resembling a religious ritual in his own residence. But President Emmanuel Macron made a pointed gesture in 2017 by attending an iftar laid on by the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM). He said he wanted to thank Muslim leaders for their support in fighting terrorism. But they were disappointed when he failed to repeat the courtesy last year.
German politicians, too, know how to practise Ramadan diplomacy. In 2015, Chancellor Angela Merkel made a maiden appearance at the annual iftar hosted in Berlin by her foreign ministry. She wanted to make the point that the Muslim faith has a place in German life, despite statements to the contrary by members of her own coalition and challengers on the far-right. “It is obvious that Islam is a part of Germany,” she said, knowing that the statement was far from self-evident to many of her compatriots. Two years later, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was invited to the German foreign ministry’s sundown dinner as part of a delicate rapprochement between Berlin and Tehran.
In Britain, where officially organised iftar meals and Ramadan wishes have been standard practice in recent years, the government was a bit slower than usual this year in wishing Muslims well for their month of abstinence. But Theresa May, the prime minister who like Mrs Merkel is a Christian cleric’s daughter, used her Twitter feed to observe that “Ramadan represents the universal values of peace, reflection, devotion and charity”….
Western leaders have taken Ramadan as a cue to salute and reassure Muslims in their own countries and around the world https://t.co/2sTVYteSmv
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) May 7, 2019