Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr with mixed emotions
The Islamic month of fasting, as grueling as it may seem, has always been a period of satisfaction and disciplinary achievement for Muslims. There is always a feeling in the air around sunset when the fast is broken that is decidedly different than normal dinners during the rest of the year. There is that common sense of accomplishment having made it through the day and that familiar buzz as the days remaining wind down towards Eid al-Fitr, a holiday as joyous for Muslims as Christmas for Christians or Hanukkah for Jews.
However, this Ramadan has had a distinctly different feeling to it for many American Muslims than ones prior. In past years, it was not uncommon for me to get questions asking me why I was fasting immediately followed by more questions about what Islam was all about. This year, it not only seemed that everyone knew what Islam was, but many non-Muslims also had predetermined opinions of the faith.
Photo courtesy of Saad Chaudhry
Like many Muslims I've talked to at the end of the holy month, along with eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset, I wish I had also given up watching television for Ramadan (specifically the news networks). Theatrics ranged from a debate about the right to build mosques in New York, Tennessee, Wisconsin and other locations to an attention-hungry pastor with an epic mustache in Florida crying wolf to Muslims about a mass burning of their holy book to look forward to at the end of the month. It was truly hard for Muslims to fast in peace; an added test of willpower, that is.
One of the reasons for this change in mood towards Muslims in America could be the unfortunate and completely coincidental lapse of the lunar calendar leaving the holiday of Eid dangerously close to Sept. 11. Another reason may be the growing Islamaphobia in this country. And yet another explanation is that none of what is happening is actually is grim as it seems; that is, Islamaphobia is not as large of an issue as is perceived by most people in America. This last one seem to be the most optimistic explanation. Hopefully, Islamaphobia is not a true problem in the U.S., and the mass media has blown it out of proportion like it does everything else.
I see several parallels, in fact, to several previous episodes of headlines we've encountered. Only a few weeks ago, the country was captivated by an oil spill that couldn't be stopped and was given everything from catchy names for solutions like "top kill" and "top hat" to a live oil spill camera feed on our TV screens almost 24/7. Just a few months earlier, everyone's attention was on the"balloon boy" who turned out to be hiding in his garage the whole time because his attention seeking father (no better than Terry Jones) wanted his own reality show. It's safe to say that our media networks and unfortunately many Americans operate on a "flavor of the week" news story system.
A safe (or perhaps naÃ¯ve) prediction is that nobody will be talking about these things in a few weeks or months time. We've stopped talking about many past stories, but it's not as though the flooding in Pakistan has stopped or the oil spill has been all cleaned up or even that the poor region in our very own country has even remotely recovered from a hurricane that swept through five years ago. Certainly the politicians will have found these topics less important to discuss after the midterm elections are over with.
It is important for Muslims to remember that the point of Ramadan is to teach them about patience, humility and spirituality. Certainly, all of them have been tested this month, but to react in any irregular (especially violent) way would only make things worse for the world and deprive them of celebration that is owed to everybody at the end of an always arduous month.
I have participated in interfaith work now for years from my introduction by Rev. Dan McQuown, the chaplain at Albion College to my current place with the Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County. Interfaith dialogue has finally been thrust into the national spotlight. We stand on the doorstep of great opportunities for interfaith work but must remember to leave it to be led by the people that have been working in it for years like The Interfaith Round Table and The Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice as is evidenced by their thorough and methodical consideration of the subject. We can't allow "overnight experts" to come inexplicably out of the woodwork and sabotage this moment. Recent events just lend proof to the notion that interfaith dialogue is an unavoidable subject; nor should it be avoided in order for people to coexist peacefully.
Ahmed Chaudhry was born in Lahore, Pakistan and moved to the Michigan in 1994. As a recent graduate of Albion College, where he received a degree in biology and religious studies, he plans to pursue a career in public health.