Obama to host Ramadan dinner at the White House

President Obama will host an iftar — the special evening meal observed during Ramadan — on Friday night in the White House dining room.

Obama participated in a similar gathering last year (shown here).

Celebrations like iftar dinners "remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam's role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings," Obama wrote in a statement Wednesday.

"Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity and racial equality ... a reminder that Islam has always been part of America and that American Muslims have made extraordinary contributions to our country."

The dinner comes amid a growing controversy over the proposed construction of an Islamic cultural center in downtown Manhattan, near the site of the World Trade Center. A CNN poll released Wednesday found that 68 percent of the public opposes the project.

Meanwhile, the White House — which has made great efforts to reach out to the Muslim community — has been silent on the issue.

"This is rightly a matter for New York City and the local community to decide," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Aug. 3.

Ramadan began on Wednesday and will end around Sept. 10.