Tag Archives: Ramadan

Rosh Hashana and Eid ul-Fitr

Wishing you a happy and healthy 5771 and an Eid Mubarak!

This year, Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and Eid ul-fitr, the holiday commemorating the end of Ramadan coincide on September 10, one day before the ninth anniversary of 9/11. As a curious aside, UN employees get the Second Day of the holiday off, but not the first. Why? Because it happens to be also Eid, one of the ten holidays recognized by the UN. Mabruk!

In any case, the debate surrounding the proposed Islamic community Center in downtown Manhattan, combined with a sudden rise in attacks in the US on individuals and mosques (Queens, Tennessee) leaves many bewildered. Muslims of course have lived in and built the US practically from the first days onwards, and today’s  relatively small Muslim community, perhaps 3 million people, has made tremendous inroads in community building and outreach in the two decades, and in particular after 9/11.  Yet, if racism and anti-Semitism have taught us anything, it is that knowledge and familiarity do not automatically erase prejudice.  Since I started teaching in South  Carolina, I have been impressed by my students’ readiness  to defend  individual religious rights, including some many  fundamentally opposed or found plain strange–Hindu burial rites, gay and lesbian rights, and the rights of Christians of all stripes, but also Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims to dress, pray, and congregate as they see fit (and no, I don’t think they did this only to get a better grade).  Perhaps the rest of the country can catch up with my students from RELG 110 eventually.

Religious traditions seem to divide people far more swiftly than they can ever hope to unite them. Instead of accepting, in all particularity, the many parallels between the Jewish and Muslim holidays as a given, or between the two religions in general, it seems easier to focus on division and extremism.

The Torah and Quran contain many passages calling on Jews and Muslims to love and protect the stranger:

The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love the stranger  as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Lev 19:34)

Those who show their affection to such as came to them for refuge, and entertain no desire in their hearts for things given to the (latter), but give them preference over themselves
. (Surah 59, (Exile) Verse 9).

And, classically, and at its heart part of every community: When Rabbi Hillel was asked to sum up the entire Torah, he said: That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.

Both traditions empower, indeed enjoin us to make a change for the better in the world.  So  maybe there is still hope.

To a happy & healthy 5771!

Ramadan and Elul

This year, the holy months of Ramadan and Elul begin on the same day, this Friday, September 21. Muslims will fast for thirty days and, every evening, break the fast with a joyous meal with family and friends. During the course of this month, pious Muslims will read the entire Qur’an–a short book, about the length of the New Testament–pray for guidance, and purify their minds through self-restraint.This is a holy month, not least because the Qur’an is believed to have been revealed to Muhammad during one of the last ten days of Ramadan. If you have never observed Ramadan or never been lucky enough to have been invited to an iftar, a breaking of the fast, you can get a glimpse in a day-by-day blog on Ramadan  on Beliefnet.

For Jews, too, the upcoming month of Elul brings a time of reflection and preparation for the new year and for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement. The Talmud explains that the Hebrew word “Elul” is an acronym standing in for “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” (I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me) of recent Victoria Beckham fame. A popular motto for weddings for obvious reasons, ani l’dodi stresses the relationship between the individuum and the divine. Elul is a time of intense chashbon nefesh, taking account of one’s deeds.

Having returned from Jerusalem just a few days ago, where the divisions between Jews and Muslims are particularly glaring, I remember that Muslim tradition holds that the holiday was reportedly established when Muhammad and his followers arrived in Medina, in 622 and fasted on the same day as the Jews, namely Yom Kippur or Ashura, as it was then called and prayed in the same direction, Jerusalem. It was only later, in the Medinan period, that these key practices changed.  Ramadan replaced Ashura and Mecca became the direction of prayer. Usually, this development is interpreted as a break with Judaism and the beginning of Islam as a religion in its own right.

Whether one follows this theory or accepts the parallels in observance, it is today easy to forget how close Judaism and Islam in fact are, in spite of all their obvious differences: both are strictly monotheistic, cherish the text and its interpretation, are governed by religious laws, follow similar dietary laws etc.

Ramadan mubarak & May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.