The Muslim mayor of a small New Jersey town says that he was denied entry to the White House on Monday for a belated Eid al-Fitr celebration with President Joe Biden.
Prospect Park Mayor Mohamed T Khairullah said he received a call from the White House shortly before he was set to arrive, informing him that the Secret Service had not cleared him to enter the event at which Biden delivered remarks to hundreds of guests. It’s unclear why the Secret Service blocked the mayor’s entry.
As he made his way home to New Jersey on Monday evening, Khairullah told the Associated Press that the snub left him “baffled, shocked and disappointed.”
“It’s not a matter of I didn’t get to go to a party,” he said. “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.”
“I guess I’m back to being accused of something,” Khairullah said to News 12 New Jersey, referencing a 2019 incident in which he was detained and questioned for hours at JFK International Airport as he and his family returned to the U.S. from a trip to Turkey. The longtime mayor described the detainment as a “hurtful moment where I’m thinking in my mind that this is not the America that I know,” he told northjersey.com. He noted he has flown internationally other times without incident.
Khairullah’s ordeal sparked backlash online, as Muslim advocacy groups condemned the snub, calling it “government overreach.”
“We call on the White House to override the Secret Service and reinstate the mayor’s invitation, disband the secret watchlist, and issue an apology to the mayor,” the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) said in a statement. “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?”
Khairullah is the longest-serving Muslim mayor in New Jersey. Born in Syria, Khairullah was first elected mayor of the borough of roughly 6,000 people in 2005, just five years after becoming a U.S. citizen. He won a fifth term in 2022.
Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement to Newsweek that the agency cannot comment further or provide an update.
“While we regret any inconvenience this may have caused, the mayor was not allowed to enter the White House complex this evening,” Guglielmi said. “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.”
Newsweek has reached out via email to Khairullah and CAIR for comment.
The revocation of Khairullah’s invitation was “wholly unacceptable and insulting,” CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut said in a statement. She highlighted the mayor’s recent accolades, including being recognized for his longstanding tenure in the role where he was recently among New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s “distinguished guests” at the governor’s mansion.
“Today, in an affront to the Muslim community and the American public at large, and in what could be perceived as a continued use of the secret watchlist, the Secret Service denied Mayor Khairullah entry, on the basis that he was not cleared by security,” she said.
CAIR has urged the Biden administration to suspend the FBI’s dissemination of two of its watchlists, which are, Maksut said, “almost entirely lists of Arabic and Muslim names.”