Every year Eid ul-Fitr, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan, happens on a different day, approximately 11 days earlier than the year before. This year, it arrived last Thursday in some parts of the world, but most of us celebrated on Friday, depending on which night the new moon was sighted by each particular community.
The uncertainty surrounding which day Eid will fall upon results from Islam’s lunar calendar. The months are dictated by the cycles of the moon and there are no extra days, no shortened months and no leap years, which in the Gregorian calendar ensure that April planting takes place in the spring, October harvest in the fall, and New Year’s Day falls on 1 January.
And strange as this calendar system may seem to some, and difficult as it is to fit into our linear American lifestyle, there are still spiritual qualities to appreciate. For example, one blessing Muslims share is: “May you see Ramadan in every season of the year.”
In the past dozen years, the Ramadan cycle has coincided with many major American events as well as civil and religious holidays: the Super Bowl, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, New Year’s Day, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hanukkah, Advent, Thanksgiving, All Saints’ Day, Halloween, the High Jewish holy days of Yom Kippur and – this year – Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.
Last year and the year before, Muslim and Jewish groups made the most of the concurrent fasting holidays – Ramadan and the 24-hour Yom Kippur fast – to show solidarity by fasting and breaking bread together through interfaith events at synagogues, mosques and community centres.
Yet at the state level, beyond an annual fast-breaking iftar at the White House since 1996, there is little national recognition of this holiday, which is as significant to Muslims as Easter and Passover are to Christians and Jews.
A handful of American cities close schools in observance of Eid, because of the growing number of Muslim students in their districts, but in New Jersey, like many American cities, fewer than two per cent of public schools close for Muslim holy days. It is only because Eid comes at the same time as the Jewish New Year this year that schools will be closed in many American cities.
The US State Department notes that Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in the United States. As it grows, it is becoming increasingly important to consider the need to respect Muslim holy days in public life.
As the moon moves the months of the Islamic calendar 11 days earlier each year and Ramadan shifts into the summer, the coincidence with big American holidays comes to a close for a while. But in 2016 Eid ul-Fitr will take place around the Fourth of July, and by 2020 it will be closer to Memorial Day in May.
This year there’s another American day of remembrance that coincided with Eid ul-Fitr – one of grief, reflection, anger and fear: the anniversary of the events of 11 September 2001.
This year’s Eid celebrations overlapped with memorial services for those who died. And Muslim Americans were conscious of that. As Americans they grieve. As Muslims, by and large, they feel the weight of perceived stereotypes and all too often find themselves defending Islam.
Out of consideration for the solemnity of 11 September, many Muslims decided not to hold big public Eid celebrations on the second day of the three-day feast as they typically have done in the past. The annual Muslim Family Day merriment, often scheduled the second day of Eid at amusement parks or children’s museums in some cities in the United States, was postponed until 12 September. Ironically, the founder of Muslim Family Day, Tariq Amanullah, died in the Twin Towers on 9/11.
Muslims have been part of the fabric of American society since the days of slavery; they are insiders, not outsiders. Given the accusations of Muslim insensitivity surrounding a proposed Islamic community centre in lower Manhattan, I hope this small, symbolic gesture in delaying the celebration of a major religious holiday, and Muslim Americans’ high standard for respect and patriotism, will be noted.
* Anisa Mehdi (www.anisamehdi.com) is a journalist, filmmaker and 2009-2010 Fulbright Scholar in Jordan. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).