Thursday, December 21, 2006
By HUSSAM AYLOUSH
A number of religious celebrations are converging yet again this month, adding to the festive holiday atmosphere, and allowing Americans an opportunity to ponder and change things for the better.
For the past five years, the fact that the end of Muslim religious observances, Ramadan or the Hajj, coincided with Christmas made this period more memorable for my family (this year, the Hajj season started Thursday, and Hajj activities begin around Dec. 29). We immersed ourselves in remembering God's blessings and mercy and will do the same on the occasion of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps to the surprise of some Americans, Jesus holds a special place in both the Christian and Islamic faiths. Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, is ingrained in the mainstream culture and is generally celebrated on three levels -- it is practiced privately, manifested in public displays and government-sanctioned holidays, and it is commercialized through department store sales and discounts.
Fast and Pray
When I was a college student in Texas, I had the pleasure of staying with a Christian family with three generations represented at the dinner table on Christmas Eve.
Those times reminded me of family dinners at my house during Ramadan, the monthlong fast during which Muslims deny themselves food, drink and other pleasures during the day.
Although we do not celebrate Christmas, Muslims around the world respect and follow Jesus, as they do other prophets in Islam -- Abraham, Moses, David, Noah, John the Baptist and Muhammad.
In observing Islamic traditions, Muslims celebrate only two holidays, Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha (Dec. 31, 2006), marking the end of Ramadan and the end of the Hajj, respectively.
We celebrate the birth of Jesus and all other prophets privately by fasting, praying and being thankful that God sent them to teach mankind about peace, justice and compassion.
During this time of year, government agencies impart the Christmas spirit by featuring Christmas trees or other ornaments on public property. We tread on shaky ground when we attempt to mix religion and state this way, no matter how honorable our intentions.
In government institutions, it is more appropriate and constitutionally sound to be inclusive and reflective of different holiday celebrations rather than celebrate one and risk alienating a segment of the community.
The First Amendment is clear in prohibiting government from favoring or establishing a state religion. So, Americans should neither shy away from displaying a range of holiday-themed symbols -- such as a Christmas tree, a menorah and a crescent -- nor view attempts to include other traditions as a threat to Christian values.
America stands for diversity and represents all faiths and backgrounds. It is through engagement of all communities in the mainstream that we will come to understand and accept one another.
Focus on Spirit
Many think that Christmas is cheapened by the pervasive consumerism seen on television and at malls. Thanksgiving and Christmas sales, even lights and decorations on storefronts, are all signs of a capitalist society at work. Jesus could not care less for such minutiae. Neither can I.
An appetite for buying and gift-giving in itself, as thoughtful as it may be, does not exhibit the true spirit of Christmas.
If there is one lesson we can all take away this Christmas, it is remembering that the essence is Jesus and his teachings. Let us treat each other the way we want to be treated. Let us, as a society, place the same value on other religions as we place on ours. Let us be more appreciative of one another and engage more with one another.
Hussam Ayloush is executive director of the Anaheim-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, Southern California.
- Hussam Ayloush
- Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html