Muslim Americans mark Thanksgiving and month of fasting

Saturday, November 23, 2002

Thanksgiving 2002 is especially notable for America's Muslims. It will mark the last time until 2035 that the semi-secular harvest celebration will fall within Islam's holy month of Ramadan.

Most Americans simply feast on Thanksgiving, with or without giving tableside prayers to the Giver, while Ramadan follows an alternating combination of feasting and fasting.

Islam sets the religious festivals according to a lunar calendar, which is about 11 days shorter than Christendom's solar calendar observed by much of the world. So the festivals shift backward on the conventional calendar year by year.

Ramadan 2003 is expected to end a couple of days before Thanksgiving. No one can say in advance since the Muslim holidays are scheduled upon sightings of the new crescent moon with the naked eye accepted by recognized authorities. Understandably, there's sometimes disagreement.

Once Ramadan starts, able-bodied adult Muslims abstain from all food and drink during daylight hours. The Quran (2:187) famously defines sunrise as the point when a white thread first appears to be distinct from a black thread.

The rhythm of Ramadan includes breakfast before sunup and a family meal after sundown. This daily round of famine and feast is echoed at the end of the month when the month of fasting concludes with feasting at the Eid al-Fitr (Feast of the End of Fasting).

For Muslims, the Eid combines elements of the American Thanksgiving as well as the Christian Christmas and Easter, and the Jewish Passover.

Muslims in America are likely to observe Thanksgiving as well as the Eid, although they won't be carving the turkey until after sunset.

The founding Prophet Muhammad said that observing Ramadan, the month the Quran was given, was one of the five "pillars," or mandatory observances, along with the Shahada (the basic declaration of faith in the one God and Muhammad as his messenger); Salat (the five daily prayer times); Zakat (the annual charity contribution of 2.5 percent of assets); and the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca, undertaken at least once in a lifetime if able).

The theme of thanksgiving receives fewer words in Islam's Quran than in the Jewish and Christian Bible, partly because the Bible is longer but also because the Quran has no equivalent of the Bible's 150 Psalms. But all three "Abrahamic" religions unite in acknowledging the one God as the Creator of all and, thus, the Giver of food and drink.

The abstention of Ramadan is seen as a path to self-control, consciousness of God and social responsibility, especially regarding the plight of the poor and hungry. It is said that Ramadan prayers are powerful and that God will forgive all the past sins of those faithfully fasting.

Mariam Durrani, a Muslim, reflected on last year's Ramadan-Thanksgiving juxtaposition in the Daily Wildcat, the University of Arizona student newspaper. The article said Thanksgiving "gives us a chance to recognize how truly lucky we are" while Ramadan provides "30 days to remember that we are truly blessed."

"When I don't eat all day, it makes me grateful for every sip of water and morsel of food that I intake later on," Durrani wrote. "During Ramadan, one must sacrifice things he or she takes for granted."

Another 2001 Ramadan-plus-Thanksgiving meditation was written by dentist Mas'ood Cajee of Stockton, Calif., and posted on the Web site of the Muslim Peace Fellowship, affiliated with the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Durrani said he was thankful for having a meal and safe drinking water, which many Muslims and others in the world lack, and for the ability to travel freely, "despite the prospect that my fellow travelers may object to my presence and physical appearance."

He also expressed thanks that as an American he can freely choose books to read in public libraries and that "secret agents won't whisk me away, never to be seen or heard from again."

On the national day, Durrani also gave thanks for Thomas Jefferson, who wanted to be remembered for writing "the Declaration of Independence and its message of freedom from tyranny" and Virginia's law on religious freedom.

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