Muslim mayor blocked from White House Eid celebration

Mayor Mohamed Khairullah was an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ on travel to the US.

The United States Secret Service has blocked a Muslim mayor from attending a White House event with President Joe Biden to belatedly celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Shortly before he was set to arrive at the White House on Monday, Mohamed Khairullah said he received a call from the White House stating he had not been cleared for entry by the Secret Service and could not attend the celebration.

Khairullah, the mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, said the White House official did not explain why the Secret Service had blocked his entry.

The 47-year-old informed the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) after he was told he would not be allowed to attend the event.

The group has called on the Biden administration to bar the FBI from disseminating information from what is known as a “terrorist screening data set” that includes hundreds of thousands of individuals.

CAIR-NJ told Khairullah that a person with his name and birthdate was in a data set that its attorneys had obtained in 2019.

Khairullah was an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump’s travel ban that limited citizens from several predominantly Muslim countries – commonly referred to as the “Muslim ban”. He also has travelled to Bangladesh and Syria to do humanitarian work with the Syrian American Medical Society and the Watan Foundation.

“It left me baffled, shocked and disappointed,” Khairullah said in a telephone interview as he made his way home to New Jersey.

“It’s not a matter of ‘I didn’t get to go to a party.’ It’s why I did not go. And it’s a list that has targeted me because of my identity. And I don’t think the highest office in the United States should be down with such profiling,” he said.

Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed Khairullah was not allowed into the White House complex but declined to say why.

“While we regret any inconvenience this may have caused, the mayor was not allowed to enter the White House complex this evening,” Guglielmi said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, we are not able to comment further on the specific protective means and methods used to conduct our security operations at the White House.”

The White House on Tuesday declined to comment on the details of the incident, stressing that it was “under [the] purview” of the Secret Service.

“What I will say more broadly is that … the president was very proud to welcome nearly 400 Muslim Americans to the White House to celebrate Eid yesterday,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

“It was a meaningful event, an opportunity to celebrate along Muslim leaders from across the country,” she said.

‘We felt very helpless’

Selaedin Maksut, executive director of CAIR-NJ, called the decision to block Khairullah from attending the event “wholly unacceptable and insulting”.

“If these such incidents are happening to high-profile and well-respected American-Muslim figures like Mayor Khairullah, this then begs the question: What is happening to Muslims who do not have the access and visibility that the mayor has?” Maksut asked.

Khairullah said he was stopped by authorities in 2019, interrogated at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York for three hours and questioned about whether he knew any “terrorists”. The incident happened when he was returning to the US after a family visit to Turkey.

On another occasion, he said he was briefly held at the US-Canadian border as he travelled back into the country with family.

Meanwhile, CAIR-NJ said Khairullah helped the New Jersey Democratic Party compile names of local Muslim leaders to invite to the White House’s Eid celebration and over the weekend was a guest at an event at the New Jersey governor’s mansion.

Khairullah was born in Syria, but his family was displaced in government crackdowns by former President Hafez al-Assad’s government in the early 1980s. His family fled to Saudi Arabia before moving in 1991 to New Jersey, where he has lived since.

He became a US citizen in 2000 and was elected to his first term as mayor in 2001. He also spent 14 years as a volunteer firefighter.

Khairullah said he made seven trips to Syria with humanitarian aid organisations from 2012 to 2015 as the civil war ravaged much of the country.

“I am Syrian, and you know, it was very difficult to see what we saw on TV and social media and not respond to help people,” he said. “I mean, we felt very helpless.”

Source: Al Jazeera, The Associated Press