Muslim mayor says he was blocked from White House Eid al-Fitr event

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Longtime Prospect Park, New Jersey, Mayor Mohamed Khairullah says he was blocked from attending a White House celebration to mark the end of Ramadan by the Secret Service.

Khairullah, a Muslim who was born in Syria, has been the Democratic mayor of the borough of 6,300 for 17 years.

The White House invited him to its Eid al-Fitr celebration Monday, and he was on his way when he was called and told that he was not cleared by the Secret Service, he said.

Image: Mayor Mohamed Khairullah says he was racially profiled at an airport after returning home from Turkey in August.
Prospect Park, N.J., Mayor Mohamed Khairullah.Mayor Khairullah / via YouTube

“I don’t know the reason,” Khairullah said Monday night. “I’m baffled.”

Khairullah said he believes that his name is mistakenly on an FBI list and that it has caused him travel problems in the past but that he thought it had been resolved. But agencies have never given him many details, and they have offered no way to remedy it.

The Secret Service confirmed Monday that Khairullah was not allowed entry to the White House complex but would not say why.

“While we regret any inconvenience this may have caused, the mayor was not permitted to enter the White House complex for this evening’s event,” Chief of Communications Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, we cannot provide additional commentary on the specifics surrounding the protective means and methods used at the White House,” Guglielmi said.

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, which is a month of fasting.

President Joe Biden attended the event and thanked Muslims for their contributions to the U.S.

Among the guests was Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father whose son Humayun Khan, an Army captain, was killed by a car bomb in 2004 while he was guarding the gates of his base in Iraq. Also in attendance was Imam Makhdoom Zia, the founder and executive director of MakeSpace, an Islamic cultural hub and learning center in Washington, D.C.

Khairullah said he has had issues with travel before.

He has been involved in relief efforts in the Middle East and said he has been to Syria seven times since unrest in 2011 turned into a civil war.

But after border patrol agents questioned him after a return to the U.S. from Turkey in 2019 and after another holdup in Canada, Khairullah said, he thought the issue had been resolved. He traveled internationally last year with no issues, he said.

“I cannot clear my name. Previously they said we can’t deny nor confirm you’re on a list, and if there is such a list there is no way of telling us how to clear my name,” Khairullah said. “It’s a Catch-22.”

Khairullah said the invitation by the White House was gracious. He said the incident shows that there is still discriminatory practices within some federal agencies.

“I think there’s an opportunity to do the right thing,” he said.

Prospect Park is a borough in New Jersey about 15 miles west of New York City. Khairullah was first elected mayor in November 2005.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called Khairullah a dedicated public servant who is beloved in New Jersey. “He embodies the American dream,” Booker said in a statement Tuesday.

“The people of Prospect Park, the citizens of New Jersey, the New Jersey Muslim community, and Mayor Khairullah deserve an explanation as to how and why this happened and an apology,” Booker said.

Phil Helsel

Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.

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