Sunday, September 12, 2010

Eid Al-Fitr and 9/11: Ignorance Breeds Contempt

Three-year-old Alaa Sohim Chowdhury hugs her father Mohammed while he prays as worshippers gather during Eid al- Fitr morning services marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Bridgeview, Ill., Friday Sept. 10 They were joined by Christian and Jewish religious leaders from around the Chicago area in a show of support for the Muslim community. (Photo: M. Spencer Green/AP)

Last year, in a post on Eid Al-Fitr, I wrote:
As most readers here know, Eid Al-Fitr is a holiday of thanksgiving to Allah after the month of spiritual renewal of Ramadan. It begins at the first sighting of the new moon, which announces the end of the month of Ramadan and the beginning of the 10th month of the Muslim lunar calendar, Shawwal.

During the 3 days of Eid Al-Fitr, the smaller of the 2 Eids-- with Eid Al-Adha also being called Eid Al-Kebir which occurs on 10 Dhu Al-Hijjah (the 12th month)--festivities are marked by feasting, visiting family and friends, and prayer. This calls for new clothes, special foods, and special entertainments."
This year it seems to me even more imperative to be aware of  and spread the true meaning of Eid Al-Fitr. Obviously this imperative relates to the concern that the 3 day celebration Sept 10-12 may lead people to  either misunderstand or to be misled into believing that Muslims are celebrating the act of terror that occurred on 9/11/2001.

Indeed, with rising Islamophobia in the USA there is more risk of misappropriating Eid celebrations to argue that Muslims are happy about the terrorism. In fact, most have been more negatively affected than the average American by this action of a very few, highly politicized Muslims in extremist religious guise. The War on Terror has killed and continues to kill Muslim civilians in very high numbers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The vast majority of Muslims are as much against violence and terrorism as anyone else. They are subject to increased scrutiny and negativity in the West, and also to measures against terrorism in majority Muslim countries.

Most majority Muslim countries have had to deal with negative political acts by violent extremists even prior to 9/11. Most often these acts are motivated by political, ethnic, and tribal concerns rather than religious ones only. This is very true of the Taliban who have done so much harm in the name of Islam and to Islam. The Taliban were first a specific Afghani tribe who wanted power throughout the country, not just in their tribal territories.  It is also true of Al-Qaeda, which has more of the structure of an international organized crime ring than a national  movement. Yet the response to Al-Qaeda has been to attack countries where they were, or were thought to have been.

Thus the USA is fighting in 2 national war zones, and more sotto voce in a third. As the Afghanistan War was supported by the UN, a number  of allied countries are also present. The Iraq War had less of a following, but still has an international component. In short, a number of nations are battling each other over an international organized crime ring with an ethno-political origin and agenda. There is no doubt that Islam is prominent in their discourse, and that the agenda is to impose their version of Islam elsewhere, but this is a political agenda primarily. A religious agenda only would not necessitate worldly power in the same way.

Open doors, open minds: Emiratis and expats share an Iftar and talk about Islam and about the things that make us different and the things that make us all same - at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, in Dubai on September 3rd, 2010. (© Borisz Merei)

Every year, during Ramadhan, especially when it's almost come to its end, the longest bazaar of all will happen in Kuala Lumpur. this bazaar covers the whole alley of Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman. Items sold are mostly for the preparation for the coming Syawal. The crowds are never ending. The photo was taken from a rooftop parking lot on a nearby complex. (© Mohd Shazni Zainal)

There has been lamentation this year that the 9/11 commemoration has been so highly politicized by the likes of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Pastor Jones, and the opponents of Park51. President Obama mentioned it in his speech at the Pentagon; Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, a bi-partisan First Ladies team, both spoke at the crash site of Flight 93 pre-empted in its trajectory towards Capitol Hill; and Vice President Biden, speaking at Ground Zero, focused on rebuilding.

Relatives of the victims of 9/11 gathered at a reflecting pool near ground zero on Saturday to mourn their lost loved ones. (Photo: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times) See accompanying article and slide show.

Yet none have, in my opinion, sufficiently emphasized how political Al Qaeda's action was; that the targets were political ones--the economic, political, and military centres of the USA. Whatever perversion of Islam was invoked, whatever statements the US makes about its values being attacked, the 9/11 terrorist act was first and foremost a political one by an organized group of opponents to USA involvement overseas, and particularly in the Gulf, MENA, and Palestine.

Failing to recognize this sufficiently, and failing to emphasize it enough, has led to an opening within the USA for uninformed discourse about Islam and unfair portrayals of American Muslims. From my perspective, this failure has resulted in inappropriate branding of, and recriminations against, anyone who dared to suggest that American foreign policy may have in any way been a factor in the attacks. Finally, it has contributed to a response, and an approach to the "War on Terror" that is ill-informed by misappropriated World War II notions of Pearl Harbour, one nation attacking another, and an "Axis of Evil", all of which still underlie the national response to what is in fact more akin to an organized crime network of political activists in Al Qaeda; and an ethnocentric tribal bid for national dominance in the Taliban.

So the ignorance is dual: insufficient understanding of Islam and the meaning of its holidays; and, insufficient acknowledgment of "the enemy" as political movements using asymmetrical warfare, and at least in part responding to US foreign policy. More knowledge and insight would be wise. In the meantime, interfaith understanding is much appreciated.

"Chip Ordman is a reform Jew and his wife Eunice is a Christian. The couple attend mosques in Memphis 2-3 times a month for Friday prayers, potluck dinners and other events.[...] Their home is actually two condos they combined – one to live in and another to host interfaith gatherings in." From 30 Mosques Day 27: The Muslims in Memphis (Part 1)

Related posts:
9/11-9 Years On
Eid Al-Fitr 2010: Worldwide Celebrations
Eid Al-Fitr: Celebrations Across the World
Eid Al-Fitr and Thanks Giving: Do You Believe in Miracles?
Aman's and Bassam's Ramadan Road Trip: 30 Mosques, 30 States, 30 Days--American Muslims From Coast to Coast Part I
Aman's and Bassam's Ramadan Road Trip: 30 Mosques, 30 States, 30 Days--American Muslims From Coast to Coast Part II
Aman's and Bassam's Ramadan Road Trip: 30 Mosques, 30 States, 30 Days--American Muslims From Coast to Coast Part III

See also, the excellent:
Could Muslims dare to celebrate on September 11 any day soon? by Jaraad at Jaraad

Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?


Susanne said...

Seems like a very interesting couple there at the end! It would be fun to interview them, I think. I love the little girl in the first picture! Thanks for this informative post!

oby said...


You may have read the following that I already posted on another blog...but I think it bears repeating. I wrote this elsewhere yesterday...

"Today on the news (radio)I heard that the biggest mosque in central Ohio, the Noor Islamic Cultural Center which I happen to live about 10 minutes from, was having a three day celebration for Eid. They had 7000 people praying there today. However, instead of continuing the festivities there tomorrow, they will be suspending their Eid celebration for one day due to the fact that it falls on 9/11 and they felt that it was a day to commemorate those who had died and it was inappropriate to have a celebration on such a day. The imam spoke and said that they are Americans too and felt that the day should not pass without a recognition of those who lost their lives due to terrorism. they will continue their celebrations with a picnic all day Sunday.

I was so touched by that gesture that I actually cried. They are not doing it for the publicity as I doubt no one other than they will know. Why can’t this kind of stuff be international news????"

I am a bit uncomfortable to post it here because the way your post is written it would too easy to say that the mosque did it for fear of reprisal due to rising islamophobia...I can honestly say I have not heard about any trouble with the Muslims/nonMuslims in our community...meaning it isn't so bad that we are seeing actions like rioting or protests.

I like to think that they did a really cool thing for the reason that they said: as sign of solidarity with their fellow citizens and it was motivated by a good heart rather than a fear of retaliation. I was very impressed by this gesture as I thought it was a selfless act (no one would know but them). In all honesty, I didn't feel that they needed to do it and had they not suspended their activities I am almost positive that the day would have passed by unnoticed. In fact, had it not been brought to our attention via the radio nonmuslims would have had no idea. I doubt anyone gave it much thought in a nefarious way...but maybe I am a Pollyanna.

Too often people cry that Muslims don't speak out or care about 9/11. I would like to think that when some do something that was obviously not required but hopefully motivated by a sense of humanity that we ascribe to them the recognition of the right motivations rather than say that they did it out of fear. To say that would cheapen it and certainly put them back in a no win situation.

jaraad said...

I have to say the no result of "War on Terror" after 9 years and the economic crises were the two major factors of this year's so much talk and coverage of 9/11, Quran burning, and Park51.
"This year it seems to me even more imperative to be aware of and spread the true meaning of Eid Al-Fitr." This could not be more true we, Muslims need to educate others about their religion. Some Americans believe that Muslims pray for the moon God!
Thanks for the link.

Chiara said...

Susanne-thank you for your comment, and indeed the couple at the end are interesting. My next post on Aman and Bassam's journey has more about them, and their interfaith activities, as does the full post that Aman and Bassam did. Thanks again for your comment.

Oby--Thanks for your comment, and a definite thank you for including that item about the mosque nearby to you. I think there is value in reaching out on an interfaith basis at any time, and particularly now to show normalcy and the usual face of Islam. Islamic tolerance of other religions and social support regardless of faith is the face I most often see in reality, and which most often doesn't make it to the news. Thanks again for your comment, and for sharing your local experience.

Jaraad--thank you for your very insightful comment! I agree that the economy is an immense factor, and that the "no win situtation" with the draw down of the troops from Afghanistan, and the anniversary of 9/11 are a confluence for increased Islamophobia. The upcoming November elections and the rise of the Tea Party candidates are also big factors. A frightening coalescence! You are welcome for the link. I do hope others take the time to read your excellent post! :)


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