Celebrating Eid-ul-Azha like an American

Wajahat Ali

The Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Azha, which commemorates the end of the annual hajj pilgrimage, begins Monday, Sept. 12. For a few weeks, it looked as if the holiday was going to fall the day before: Sept. 11. Not ideal timing. On that horrific day 15 years ago, foreign Muslim extremists hijacked four planes and killed 2,996 people, and every day since then American Muslims have had to ask: What can I do to make you stop seeing me as a security threat?
Specifically, in my case, how can I, a dorky, brown, Muslim dude born in California and raised on Genesis and ’80s action movies, make you feel comfortable when you see me board a plane? I guess one thing I could do is not celebrate a Muslim holiday on 9/11. When I was growing up in Fremont, California, we marked Eid-ul-Azha by waking up early, wearing our finest shalwar khameez and heading out to the mosque or the fairgrounds. The holiday, which also honours Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael, calls for a “qurbani,” or animal sacrifice, and then distributing the meat to your family, neighbours and especially the poor. In my home, that meant weeks of glorious, halal lamb biryani and enough organs in the freezer to make Hannibal Lecter weep with joy.
The date of the holiday changes every year, since it is determined by the lunar calendar. This creates many awkward moments for Muslim employees and students when asking for the day off: “Um, I’ll need to take Monday off. Or Tuesday. I’ll let you know, probably by Friday.” Most communities rely on the tradition of sighting the new moon that signals the arrival of the holiday. This year it seemed, for a tense moment, that it would coincide with the anniversary of the attacks. One man wrote a letter to a New Jersey newspaper saying that if the holiday did fall on 9/11, we should just pretend it didn’t. “If we were to celebrate our Eid holiday on Sept. 11 this year, we might be mistaken for celebrating our nation’s tragedy,” he wrote.
On a group text with friends, we did ad hoc crisis management, drafted talking points and brainstormed non-Muslim allies who could talk about the holiday. However, Saudi Arabia pre-empted controversy two weeks ago by declaring that the holiday would take place on Sept. 12. The decision coincided with the eventual sighting of the new moon, but it seemed as if the 9/12 decree was to avoid 9/11 overlap. Muslims still can’t afford to exhale, though. We’ve seen a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes. In Queens, an imam and his assistant were killed. In New York, mosques are planning prayers inside instead of in parks and public spaces.
We’re worried about our safety. We’re also worried about making our fellow Americans feel safe around us. How should we do that? If we ask Donald J. Trump, he’ll submit Muslims to “extreme vetting” and demand loyalty oaths. If we ask Bill Clinton, he’ll ask us to tick off the checklist he offered at the Democratic National Convention in July: “If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together, we want you.” That list is so complicated that I lost track by the fourth time he said “and.” What happens if I just “really like” America and want to stay, if the rent is affordable, and I’m too lazy and lacking in athletic ability to help us “win”?
My friend Zeba Iqbal refuses to be held responsible for everything that any Muslim does. As a Muslim New Yorker, she feels that her city and country were attacked on 9/11 and ever since her faith has been deemed the culprit. Like many, she believes she has a personal responsibility to represent American Muslims and Islam. “But on my terms,” she adds. “Not the terms of the court of public opinion.” Fifteen years after Sept. 11, have we fulfilled our obligations or are there new, insurmountable hurdles? “Our obligations as American Muslims have not changed, they have just become more difficult,” acknowledges Hussein Rashid, a scholar of Islamic studies. He still believes Muslims should rise above hate and try to be the best version of themselves, not for the sake of appearing moderate, but to uphold and mirror their honourable religious values.
In remembering our American values, I’m reminded of President George W. Bush’s address on Sept. 12, 2001. He ended it by saying, “None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.” If we sacrifice our religious freedoms at the altar of making people feel comfortable and safe, that sacrifice won’t be touched by God’s favour and replaced by a lamb. Instead, we’ll have a hollow corpse of the American dream.
For that reason, I’ll be celebrating my Eid-ul-Azha loud and proud this year. I’m going to skip work, wake up early with my kids, dress my son in a traditional Pakistani outfit, head out to a banquet hall and celebrate with other young families. Afterward, I’m going to eat some halal meat and ask my mom to send pictures from California of her biryani. I’ll also donate food, clothing and money to local charities. At night, I’ll plop down on my couch to watch “Monday Night Football.” You know, like an American.
— Courtesy: The New York Times

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