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August 30, 2010

Eid al-Fitr and September 11: Please don't jump to conclusions

Those not familiar with Muslim holidays may not have realized that we are currently in the middle of Ramadan. Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting:
Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sexual relations from dawn until sunset. Fasting is intended to teach Muslims about patience, humility, and spirituality. It is a time for Muslims to fast for the sake of God and to offer more prayer than usual. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds. [wikipedia]
The dates of Ramadan vary because it is based on a lunar calendar. This year Ramadan began on Wednesday, August 11 for most of the world (the exact dates are based on visibility of the hilal moon and therefore can vary by a day or so according to location). Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month and the breaking of the fasts, is a joyous holiday of celebration. In some countries the celebration can last for days and spread over the weekend.

This year celebrating may cause problems for some Muslim Americans. Why? Because many non-Muslims living in America are Islamophobic and ignorant. That is, this year Eid falls right around September 11 and there is a concern that those who don't know anything about Islam (and who think that Muslim = Terrorist) might mistake the festivities as a celebration of the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

Now, I'm not saying that it's necessarily bigotry if you're not informed about the details - and varying dates - of all major Muslim holidays. The truth is, while I had heard of Ramadan, I didn't really know much about Eid al-Fitr until two of my daughter's classmates explained it to me and I wasn't aware of the overlap this year until I saw this. Although, Eid al-Fitr is one of the biggest Muslim holidays and has been compared to Christmas in its significance. While not every non-Muslim is required to know about Ramadan and Eid, you can bet that they expect Muslim-Americans to know the dates of all the major Christian holidays.

But I'm not suggesting that it's the responsibility of every single non-Muslim to know about Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. What I do think non-Muslims have a responsibility to do, is to not jump to conclusions.

If you see groups of Muslims praying and celebrating, don't assume it has anything to do with September 11. Sorry, but the holiday has been around way longer than the anniversary of the WTC attacks; not everything is about 9/11. If you were born on September 11th and celebrate your birthday, no one would assume that you were celebrating the attacks. If there was a terrorist attack around Christmas-time, no one would assume that anyone celebrating Christmas was a Christian terrorist.

It is straight up racism and ignorance to jump to the conclusion that anyone celebrating Eid on or near September 11 is a terrorist supporter.

This reminds me of an Islamophobic email forward I received a few times, the last time just a few months ago... It included a photograph from a store that was closed on September 11 of that year to "commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Ali". People immediately decided - based on no facts whatsoever - that "Imam Ali" was one of the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center. Um, no. Imam Ali was a 7th century religious leader who died on the 21st day of Ramadan in 661 AD. Unfortunately the date happened to fall on September 11 that year and the store owner, who put the same sign with a different date in the window every year, didn't even think of the fact that people might be confused until it was too late.

Now if I saw that sign, I might have wondered "what the heck is this about?" but instead of boycotting the store, sending hate mail, and forwarding an incorrect email forward to everyone I know, I would've looked it up. It takes only a few seconds to do a google search for "imam ali martyr" to realize that he was a historical figure, not a present day terrorist. (At the very least, when you receive an email like that, look it up on snopes before forwarding it on.)

People love so much to be outraged and offended, that they rarely take the time to find out if there's any reason.

Some people have suggested that Muslims just "move" Eid to another day. (Would you ever ask Christians to just move Christmas or Easter?) While I think that should be out of the question, there have been talks about how to handle the overlap appropriately and many plan to alter the way they would normally celebrate. New York Muslims - several of whom lost family in 9/11 - will likely alter their celebrations the most; mosques in New York have planned sermons on dealing with loss and grief.

It just goes to show that most Muslim Americans strive to be sensitive about September 11 and understanding about potential misunderstandings. I think it sucks that this is even something they have to think about. I can understand not wanting to celebrate fully because it's hard to be happy and festive on the anniversary of the attacks... but it pains me to think of Muslims breaking their long-held traditions out of "courtesy" to ignorant non-Muslims and/or out of fear from bias-motivated crimes.

Related: The War on Thanksgiving?


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. Not being terribly educated on the holy dates of religions and horrible with dates in general, it was good to be educated. I'm passing this along to Twitter and Facebook.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for helping me to put to rest a rumor I had received yesterday from a usually reliable source regarding the sign in the Houston store window last year regarding "Imam Ali." As a serious and well educated critic of most things Islamic I was aware of the basic background of the progenitors of Shiite Islam,"Imam's" Ali and his son Hussain. A quick check of the date of the Shiite holiday Ashura (centered on the martyrdom of Hussain) for 2009 found it way off the mark for September 11th. But I hadn't yet gotten around to find the day of Imam Ali's martyrdom in the Islamic calendar.

Ironically, by seeking to be ultra-tolerant to the PC level you have stumbled into a trap. Historically, there tends to be a an uptick in Islamic terrorism globally at the end of Ramadan. It was while seeking documentation on that phenomenon that I came upon your posting.

Michael G.

Anonymous said...

Ali was attacked by an assassin while praying in a mosque on the 19th day of Ramadan and he died on the 21st day of Ramadan. (Ramadan in 2009 was around August 21-September 19, so yes, it coincidentally/unfortunately fell on September 11).

Not sure what you're getting at though with the claim that we're falling into a trap. Even if it is true that there tends to be an 'uptick' in 'Islamic terrorism' near the end of Ramadan (a claim that I am suspicious of) that doesn't do anything to refute what we've written here.

Islamic terrorists are radical extremists and NOT representative of all - or even most - Muslims. So what they do and when they do it, has no bearing on the point of this blog.

The honest truth is that most Muslims are not terrorists, not violent, not supportive of the terrorists. So on Eid al-Fitr, if Muslims are celebrating... they're celebrating Eid al-Fitra. Period.