The meaning of Eid
Islam should embrace universal human rights
Guests listen to remarks during an Eid al-Fitr reception at the East Room of the White House on May 2, 2022 in Washington, D.C. The White House held the event to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.
Eid is the one to three days at the end of Ramadan, the lunar month in Spring when Muslims show their devotion by refraining from food, drink and sex from sunup to sundown. Eid is a time for reunion after this arduous month. Muslims across the world share an ascetic experience during the month of Ramadan and then celebrate at the end.
For non-Muslims, the spiritual activities of Muslims might be unfamiliar. But as Muslims become an integral part of the fabric of American society, it behooves the health of the whole to know a little about the Muslim community.
I am originally from Yemen, where I was born, raised, and educated. I learned how to recite and sing the verses of Islamic scriptures in a melodious voice. I had to study for countless hours the rules for pronunciation of the ancient Arabic, one of the oldest sciences in Islamic civilizations. The Quranic verses were imprinted in my mind during childhood.
I immigrated from Yemen to the United States to pursue my higher education at the University of Miami, from which I earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and religion. During my time at the University of Miami, I served as the president of the campus Muslim students. In the meantime, the local Muslim communities took a note of my leadership on campus. After graduating, I was contacted by a local mosque — Masjid Al-Ihsaan — in Miami to come and lead the chanting during the month of Ramadan, which I accepted. Ramadan feels like a marathon, where we race in our worship to God. At the end of Ramadan, we relish the relaxing mood of Eid, because we can break our fast and enjoy our time with family, friends, and community.
Americans need to know that the enlightened branch of Islam that respects universal human rights — the one which I believe the truest expression of Islam — is alive and well both here and abroad.
During my latest time as an imam in Masjid Al-Ihsaan, we welcomed a new Hispanic woman who joined Islam. Many people seem to be interested in becoming Muslim, and I am amazed because Islam remains one of the most misunderstood religions worldwide.
Of course, Muslims are quite happy to welcome newcomers, but I have a different attitude. I strongly believe that we Muslims need to fix our own house before proselytizing our religion to new members.
Right now, the most pressing issue in the United States is that of religious freedom, a problem that runs rampant in all religious traditions. In my interpretation of Islam, freedom of religion is a guaranteed right. It is in the Quran where God proclaimed that there shall be no coercion in religion, so that people can practice whatever religion they wish.
In times of Eid and celebrations, we have to remember the high ideals of Islam. We need to think devoutly and strategically about the role of Muslims in American society. We certainly have no shortage of totalitarian movements in religions — including Islam — that arrest the progress of humanity.
In the mosque where I served as an interim imam for the month of Ramadan, we have people attending the congregation from all sorts of ethnic and racial backgrounds. Yet I observed the same human problems from which the larger American society suffers: racism and sexism.
According to the highest ideals of Islam, God tells us in the Quran that He made us different so that we get to know each other. But instead, what I observed is discrimination based on race and sex, which runs antithetical to everything that Islam stands for.
For example, we had a visitor once to the mosque, and his first comment was, “Why are the women segregated?” In much of Islam, gender norms are quite outdated, and women are not encouraged to socialize and congregate with men. In Yemen, where I grew up, women do not talk to men, because it is forbidden culturally and backed up by certain interpretations of scriptures. I was quite surprised that the same gender norms prevail here in many mosques in Miami and elsewhere.
Therefore, in Eid, Muslims should think deeply about the issues that hamper the progress of the Muslim community in America and abroad.
Lest readers take the wrong impression, I celebrate the rich enlightened tradition of my religion, but I am encouraging my fellow Muslims to think deeply about the predicaments of Islam with the society at large.
During the Golden Age of Islam, from about 800-1200 AD, when Muslims led the world in scholarship and science, we had vigorous debates about those issues, with views ranging from liberal to conservative. Now we only seem to hear the loud outmoded branch of Islam, fueled by oil money, which we ought to resist during Eid — a time of both reunion and revival.
Americans need to know that the enlightened branch of Islam that respects universal human rights — the one which I believe the truest expression of Islam — is alive and well both here and abroad. It simply gets little media attention because it is not violent and suppressive like the fundamentalist branch. Its latest bold international statement is the Marrakesh Declaration of 2016, forthrightly stating the rights of minority religions in Muslim countries to freely practice their religion.
Religious freedom is under attack in all nations and religions, in America and elsewhere, so there is work to do, a good thing for all of us — Muslim and non-Muslim — to reflect on at Eid.
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