In 1805, the month of Ramadan fell in December. Far from his friends, family and home, one Tunisian man was attempting to observe it in Washington, D.C. This was the statesman Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, who was spending six months in the United States, on a diplomatic mission.
Observing this holy month and its daily fasts in such a foreign environment must have been a challenge. Newspaper commentators at the time thought of him contemptuously, variously “depicting him as a sex-crazed barbarian, or associating Islam with licentiousness,” writes Jason Zeledon. But in Thomas Jefferson, he had an unexpected ally. Despite facing criticism for his hospitality from Federalists in Connecticut and Vermont, Jefferson looked after his Muslim visitor graciously, going so far as to rearrange a dinner party around Mellimelli’s fast. In doing so, America’s third president became the country’s first ever host of an iftar meal.
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