WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Donald Trump said on Saturday (April 18) he hopes US Muslims will be held to the same social distancing standards during Ramadan as Christians at Easter, when a number of faithful chafed against coronavirus-related restrictions on large gatherings.
The US president made the comments after being asked to defend a retweet of a conservative commentator who seemed to question whether Muslims would be treated with the same severity as Christians who broke social distancing rules.
"I would say that there could be a difference," Trump said during his daily coronavirus press conference. "And we'll have to see what will happen. Because I've seen a great disparity in this country." "They go after Christian churches but they don't tend to go after mosques," he said.
Ramadan, which begins at sunset on Thursday (April 23), falls a week and a half after Easter, when some Christians bucked public health regulations to attend illicit services.
Asked whether he thought imams would refuse to follow social distancing orders, Trump responded: "No, I don't think that at all." "I am somebody that believes in faith. And it matters not what your faith is. But our politicians seem to treat different faiths very differently."
Trump has been accused of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the past and one of his first acts upon entering office was to ban travellers from several Muslim-majority countries.
More than 700,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported in the United States, forcing religious communities across the country to shutter their doors.
The Islamic Society of North America, alongside Muslim medical experts, has urged the suspension of group prayers, among other gatherings.
Jewish Americans were likewise forced to turn traditional Passover seders into virtual affairs when the eight-day holiday began at sundown on April 8.
Despite similar measures taken across much of the Christian community, a Virginia pastor who continued to preach in defiance of stay-at-home rules died a week ago of coronavirus.
And pastors at two megachurches in Florida and Louisiana have been arrested on misdemeanor charges for flouting stay-at-home orders.
"The Christian faith is treated much differently than it was," Trump added on Saturday, "and I think it's treated very unfairly."