Posts Tagged ‘religious freedom’


What if New York’s Twin Towers had been felled (and the Pentagon attacked and a fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania) on December 25? We would long remember that terrible day. So would celebrating Christmas in America be halted?

Recently, American Muslims feared that the festival of Eid al-Adha would fall on September 11. Could Muslims celebrate the festival without being called un-American? Without being attacked in their mosques, business places and homes? The worry ended when Saudi Arabian religious authorities, who set Muslim dates according to the moon, proclaimed that this year Eid al-Adha falls on September 12. But if the festival had fallen on September 11, should American Muslims have sought to delay it?

Eid al-Adha marks the intended sacrifice by Abraham of his older son Ishmael (although not specified by name in the Qur’an). Yet Genesis 22 relates that God tested Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his younger son Isaac. Why the disconnect? While Muslims venerate Abraham as the original monotheist and a great prophet, Islam adheres to a number of different religious narratives despite what has been passed down in the Hebrew Bible.

Regarding 9-11 and Eid al-Adha, is there a link? No. Muslim holidays move “backward” through the secular calendar since the lunar Muslim calendar contains only 354 or 355 days. This year September 12, next year September 1 (possibly August 31) and so on. The Jewish lunar-solar calendar also falls short of a secular year, but a leap month added to seven of every 19 years keeps holidays within their appointed seasons. Thus Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur always arrive in late summer or early fall; Passover always comes in the spring.

Purely by coincidence, any Muslim holiday can fall on any national or state holiday. Most American holidays bring a sense of joy, so no offense can be taken. Memorial Day should be somber, but most Americans indulge in weekends away, barbecues and shopping. December 7, anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and 9-11 are sad days but not national holidays. Americans may pause for a moment but generally go on with their lives.

Would Christmas then cease to be a major holiday if America noted a tragedy called 12-25 or Black Christmas? Christian Americans wouldn’t have it, and they’d be right. Therefore, Muslim-Americans can acknowledge an American day of doleful remembrance yet remain patriots while celebrating a major religious festival.

Many Americans boast dual identities and sometimes more. We share our Americanism while upholding our ethnic/religious traditions. The latter don’t negate the former. That we can do this pays tribute to the American ideal of freedom of religion.

Yes, I have a personal interest in American Muslims celebrating their holidays on the correct date. If the Jewish High Holy Days fall on Columbus Day, or Chanukah on Thanksgiving or Christmas, or Sukkot on Memorial Day, I’m not about to give up my religious practices. And I won’t be less American. Upholding two holidays is like walking and chewing gum at the same time. It’s a rare person who can’t do it.

So to all Muslim Americans, Happy Eid. September 11 is a sad day. But those attacks on America and its values remind us that in this nation, the freedom to observe our particular religions—or none—remains sacrosanct.

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Some people believe that outrage in the name of religion—or religious hatred—only happens “there.” Not quite. But along with the bad news, there’s also good news.

In Cologne, Germany, a regional court banned circumcision for children stating that the procedure does bodily harm without consent. German Jews and Muslims—along with co-religionists worldwide—protested vociferously. For Jews, the Torah (Genesis 17:12) commands circumcision on the eighth day of life. The Qu’ran does not mention circumcision for Muslims, but circumcision remains a long-standing tradition carried out at different ages—often as young as seven days—depending on geographic, religious and cultural factors.

In Murfreesboro, Tennessee—thirty miles from Nashville—American Muslims sued to be able to open a new Mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in time for the holy month of Ramadan, which began last night. In September 2010, four residents of Rutherford County filed suit to block the mosque citing a “risk of terrorism generated by proselytizing for Islam and inciting the practices of Sharia law.” They insisted that the Islamic center not be approved until it demonstrated it was not interested in “the overthrow of the American system of government, laws and freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.”

Ignorance begets hatred. Religious majorities often know little or nothing about the minorities among them. And I’m not referring only to people in the “hinterlands.” I’ve found this to be true here in San Francisco. Anti-Semites around the world still condemn Jews as threats to the national order. And let’s not be naïve. Islam has generated a significant number of zealots who seek to impose their own religious views and practices. Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, have suffered. But restricting legitimate religious practices offers no answer.

So, all this being stated, let’s give credit where it’s due. The German federal government opposes the circumcision ban. Prime Minister Angela Merkel stated, “I do not want Germany to be the only country in the world where Jews cannot practice their rituals. Otherwise we will become a laughing stock.” Ms. Merkel might have stated, “I do not want Germany to be morally offensive to the world,” but she made her point. Yesterday, the lower house of parliament passed a resolution protecting circumcision for religious reasons.

In the U.S. this week, the Justice Department and the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro filed lawsuits. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell ruled that a final building inspection must be conducted to enable the mosque to open.

We frequently hear religious bodies in the U.S.—usually conservative—decry Washington’s restrictions on religious freedom. Concerns should be addressed. For example, discussions regarding providing insurance for abortions to employees at religious institutions opposed to abortion merit consideration. The issues are complex. But I would state that our government favors religious freedom—not for any particular group but for all. And it manages to act quite admirably to uphold religious thought and action provided believers do not impose their views on others.

That’s my take on the matter. Of course, when you’re part of a religious minority, you tend to view our Constitution as a document that does more than provide religious freedom on a selective basis.

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