Spaces to Mourn

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By: Kari Sonde

When I called my mother this weekend to catch up on the family, she told me that they had gotten together for dinner and prayer in celebration of Eid al-Adha, the holiest day of the Muslim calendar, before the actual date itself, though most people are celebrating later.

“Muslims around the world are celebrating it later,” she said. “Everybody’s doing it.”

Oh god, I thought. This year, in an awkward, potentially dangerous coincidence, the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks coincides with Eid al-Adha. The holiday begins Monday, and, as is tradition, will last around three days.

It’s difficult to predict the dates of the Muslim calendar, as it follows the moon, not the sun. For a while, Muslims, particularly American Muslims, feared that the holiday would fall on the actual day of 9/11 itself, and tensions have been high among Muslim communities. Just recently, an imam and his assistant were shot in Queens. Some people have been worried that the holiday might be misconstrued, especially because Eid al-Adha is the feast of sacrifice.

The sacrifice in question is that of a lamb or goat, commemorating of the actions of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his willingness to sacrifice his son by Allah’s command, though it pained him to do so. Allah intervened through an angel, because the fact that the prophet was willing to sacrifice something so dear to his heart was proof enough for Allah of the prophet’s devotion. Instead, He instructed him to sacrifice a sheep.

As tradition follows, families sacrifice a goat or a lamb, thanking God for His gift of life. They do so with the understanding that the taking of life is a solemn act, as life is sacred.

The family keeps a third of the meat for themselves, a third for relatives, and a third for those in need who cannot afford food, let alone meat. My family doesn’t actually sacrifice an animal (I think we’re squeamish), but for as long as I can remember, someone brings lamb. We pray and then we eat, together, as a family.

Thinking about the holiday immediately made me think about how the theme of sacrifice could be misunderstood by those who know nothing about Eid al-Adha or Muslim culture.

Religious leaders are thinking about how to frame this year’s holiday. Families are contemplating how to celebrate. Mine chose to celebrate earlier, so as not to be disrespectful to those mourning the tragedies of 9/11. Around the globe, others are breathing a sigh of relief, thankful that the holiday falls on September 12.

Award-winning playwright Wajahat Ali wrote in The New York Times about the complications involved with the celebration’s date. “I guess one thing I could do is not celebrate a Muslim holiday on 9/11,” he mused.

In the end, he makes the decision to celebrate Eid al-Adha the way that he has always done, with feast, prayer, and family.

“If we sacrifice our religious freedoms at the altar of making people feel comfortable and safe, that sacrifice won’t be touched by God’s favor and replaced by a lamb. Instead, we’ll have a hollow corpse of the American dream,” Ali wrote.

I don’t know what to do. I’m not the most religious person. I don’t pray five times a day, I don’t abstain from drinking, I don’t dress (very) modestly. I ran home for Eid al-Fitr, which I’ve often described as “Muslim Christmas,” to celebrate the end of the month of Ramadan, but I didn’t fast this year. I usually fast with my dad, who’s not with me in New York. I went home, not so much in celebration of a holy day, but to feel the connection with my family.

Eid al-Adha was never important to me as a child. While Ramadan is a whole month of fasting up until Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha marks the end of hajj, a pilgrimage between the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, which I haven’t participated in, and I don’t know if I ever will.

Eid al-Adha has always been a holiday far removed, something I wasn’t really a part of.

In addition to all that, I don’t know how to think about 9/11. I’m not from New York City, I just live here. It’s not as integral to my life as it is for some others, simply because I wasn’t here when it happened, because I wasn’t hurting like others were.

I’m also Muslim. While I don’t think it should really matter, I tend to avoid 9/11 events, memorials, readings because I feel like I’m intruding. I don’t think I should be there. I don’t think I can give the type of support that others need, and I understand that there are negative feelings attached to my religion that can trigger something for others.

Again, it shouldn’t matter, because I am also an American. My religion should be exempt from criticism. We’re not hurting anybody — and I don’t consider terrorists to be Muslim at all, just people who twist an ideology to further their own hatred.

My family isn’t here in New York, so for me, that’s enough reason not to celebrate, but with the closeness of 9/11, it feels important to reflect on the sacrifice of the first responders who risked their lives to save others during the tragedy.

It feels important to remember that the lives that were lost will always be sacred.

I don’t usually pray, but tonight I might.

[Image via.]

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