Saturday, December 22, 2007

Eid al-Adha

Imagine looking around and seeing millions of individuals with the same faith performing alongside you the exact same rites. Imagine wearing a simple white garment and praying with others all dressed in the same modest attire, and not knowing whether the person next to you is the CEO of a multibillion-dollar corporation or the poorest, welfare dependent individual who saved his fortunes for this occasion.

This is only a part of the Hajj experience, the Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah. The rituals that Muslims perform on Hajj symbolize many of the experiences of the Prophet Abraham. Muslims for example, on the 10th day of the pilgrimage, throw seven pebbles at a stone pillar that represents the devil. This act recalls Abraham’s throwing of stones at Satan when he tried to dissuade Abraham from sacrificing his son. After this rite, the pilgrims sacrifice a sheep, reenacting the story of Abraham, who, in place of his son, sacrificed a sheep that God had provided as a substitute. It is on this tenth day of pilgrimage that Muslims conclude the hajj, and it is on this day, that Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha.

Eid al-Adha is the second of the two Muslim annual holidays and it commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Throughout the world, Muslims after an early-morning prayer, slaughter an animal and distribute the meat among family, friends, poor and needy people in the community. On this day, Muslims meet with their family and friends, and greet them (or Facebookwall them) with “Eid-Mubarak” or Happy Eid. Because the Muslim calendar is lunar-based, Eid can occur at any time throughout the course of one’s life (it’s only a coincidence that this years Eid occurred alongside Hanukah or Christmas-by 2020 for example, Muslims will be performing Eid around the end of July) In any case, regardless of when Eid al-Adha occurs, expect the Muslims to get loose, possibly wearing some traditional clothes, chilling with their friends and families, and uncorking all the fake-wine you can imagine.

-Umar Qadri

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Righteous Gentiles of Bosnia

The Israeli newspaper "Ha'aretz" recently ran this story about Jewish leaders seeking to honor Bosnians who saved Jews during the Holocaust as part of a larger effort to record the history of Bosnia's Jewish and Muslim communities:

Ha'aretz article

The former Yugoslavia is an area that does not come up too often in JAM and other arenas for dialogue, but it is worth examining as another place where, in happier times, followers of the three Abrahamic traditions have flourished together.

For a post on a similar subject, see here

Monday, December 3, 2007

"Presents on Hanukah?" or "How to be a minority"

Contrary to what may be the perception of many non-Jewish Americans (and probably many Jews as well), the holiday of Hanukah, which begins at sundown on December 4th, is not one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar. Like any holiday, of course, it is very important, but the degree of attention it is given in the U.S. relative to holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur gives Hanukah the appearance of a relative significance far greater than ascribed to it by traditional Judaism. That many Jewish families (mine included) give children presents on Hanukah seems to me to be the product of a desire – an understandable one – to blend in with the predominantly Christian culture of the U.S. Put simply, Hanukah’s significance in Judaism is exaggerated by American Jews for the purpose of “fitting in” to Christian American society.

If this situation is the case, it raises an interesting question for both Jews and Muslims (and any other non-Christian Americans): to do what degree do we allow ourselves flexibility to adapt, assimilate, acculturate – whatever you want to call it – to a surrounding society in which we are a clear minority? I believe that the goal of much of Jewish law is to elevate or make holy through separation. Indeed, the Hebrew word for holy, “kadosh,” comes from a root meaning “separation.” Just as Shabbat is a holy day separate from the rest of the week, so do Jews, for example, eat kosher food or wear a yarmulke to elevate ourselves spiritually by separating from the predominant way of doing things. On the other hand, Judaism is a religion that teaches us to live in society. Jews are taught to obey the laws of the ruling government. Jews who delve into mysticism do not go off into the forest and meditate after having a spiritual experience; rather, they should come back into their society and help others achieve similar spiritual heights. I would love to hear about Muslim parallels or dissimilarities on these subjects.

So how do we deal with the pressures of being a minority when we simultaneously want to integrate and maintain our distinct beautiful identities? A simple example courtesy of the American Hanukah experience: how do we explain to a young Jewish child that he is not getting presents like all his friends because he is “different, but not in a bad way?”

One answer is to isolate one’s self, as many very observant Jews do. But this approach is far from satisfying to me. My desire to maintain a “separateness” as a Jew in a majority Christian country does not stem from a revulsion of that culture. If I were to feel that the only way to be an upright Jew was to detach from non-Jewish society, I would feel that I had failed. This dilemma, of course, has been pondered endlessly before, but that’s because it’s a never-ending problem.

And I don’t have any more answers here other than celebrating the fact that I am still proud to be a Jew and happy in American society. Jews and Muslims in America face very similar identity issues, and it would benefit us both to hear each other’s views on how to navigate these questions. Any thoughts?...

Happy Hanukah!