When US President Jefferson changed his schedule for Iftar with Tunisian envoy
This story goes back to November 1805 when a salute from the guns of the frigate USS Congress announced the arrival of the Tunisian envoy, Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, to the United States.
Mellimelli was the first Muslim envoy to the United States and his rather large figure appeared with a full dark beard, in robes of richly embroidered fabrics and wore a turban of fine white muslin.
The backdrop to this state visit was the ongoing conflict between the United States and the Barbary states, autonomous provinces of the Ottoman Empire that rimmed the Mediterranean coast of North Africa.
What made his stay historic was the cultural exchange he had with local officials during his stay in Washington. According to the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, Mellimelli was in Washington during the month of Ramadan.
Over the next six months, Mellimelli added spice to the Washington social season and also tested the diplomatic abilities of President Thomas Jefferson and his administration.
“To accommodate his guest’s religious obligation, Jefferson’s invitation to the President’s House on December 9 changed the time of dinner from the usual “half after three” to “precisely at sunset.” Throughout his stay, Mellimelli was enlivening Washington society and engaged in serious diplomatic exchanges with Jefferson and Madison.
According to the Encyclopedia, while Mellimelli’s visit did pique cross-cultural curiosity and avert the immediate threat of war with Tunis, cultural differences would continue to intrude upon the relationship between the United States and the Barbary world.
While Mellimelli’s visit did pique cross-cultural curiosity and avert the immediate threat of war with Tunis, cultural differences would continue to intrude upon the relationship between the United States and the Barbary world.