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.
If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And may we remember those whose lives were brutally taken on September 11 and live life to the fullest in their honor.
To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.