Friday, September 18, 2009

Annual Call to Compassion, Patience and Peace between Muslims in this Season

A couple of years ago, when I was on the board of the Muslims for Progressive Values, I had pushed for a campaign calling for compassion, patience and peace within the Muslim community. You can read the petition and my original blog post here. And please give it a second thought. We all have strong positions and opinions on what the right time of Eid is, what our faith means to us, and what is good about our faith and wrong about our communities--even on how "Ramadhan" itself should be spelt in the English script. But, as the petition said:
...engage with people who hold different positions ... with respect, good will, and compassion. If we can pass this test of fraternity within the community, if we can treat other Muslims with respect whether we agree or disagree, and do so without losing sight of what holds us together and makes us brothers and sisters in our faith and our humanity; if we can do that, then we can try to begin fulfilling our role as the upholders of peace and justice and truly be the best of communities.
The month of Ramadan, the Hajj season, and the days of the Eids are some of the most blessed moments of our calendar, let us try to fill them with peace, compassion, and good will towards all humanity; and let us start within our community.
[Postscript: Also in previous years, I wrote this and this. Laury Silvers wrote a follow up that doesn't seem accessible any more.]

In this regard, I would like to draw your attention to two pieces of writing. Firstly, there is Mike Ghouse's piece "Ramadan Politics", in which he reminds us:
In the tradition of Prophet, let every one celebrate the way their group feels, it is against the spirit of Ramadan to denigrate, diminish and devalue other practices. The essence of Ramadan is to become humble, simple and free from ill-will, anger, meanness and hate. Let’s fill our hearts with goodwill and honor Ramadan by saying “Eid Mubarak” (pronounced “eed” as in “eel” the fish) or Happy Eid to every one who celebrates on a different day in the same town. The essence of Ramadan is joy and let’s not prick any one’s bubble; God has not signed a pact with any one behind others back, let’s rejoice the differences. If you want to celebrate, go to every celebration.

In the spirit of Ramadan, I pray Ramadan gets into our hearts and minds and make us embrace all factions of Muslims without undermining their tradition and further pray that we treat every human on the earth with dignity, respect and care.

For Ramadan to be truly universal, its benefits must extend beyond the fraternal ties of Muslims to common humanity with others. Fasting is meant to impart a sense of what it means to be truly human, and its universality is reflected by its observance in Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Sikh, Zoroastrian and other faiths.
Okay, so he gets the translation of "Eid Mubarak" wrong; it is much closer to our Wiccan friends Samhain greeting of "Blessed be", than to the generic "Happy Holidays". But the point he makes is sound.

The other piece came to me via email, and to someone who's always been skeptical of the expat lifestyle in the Gulf, is one of the best gestures I have seen in a long time. It is a piece by Saudi socio/political commentator, Tariq Al Maeena and is "An Eid message to our fellow expatriates". I have sent him an email asking if I can reproduce his piece in full, but his main thrust is that:
as the citizens of this country prepare for the festivities of family gatherings and reunions in the days ahead, let us not forget the countless number of Muslim expatriates among us who stood with us in worship, but who will celebrate the dawn of Eid in solitude, away from family and friends.

Millions have come and gone, and millions remain among us today, some alone and distant from their families, tasked with the duties of helping oil the machinery that makes this country run. Many perform to the expectations required, mostly in silence. Their isolation and loneliness in a land different than their own cannot be simply compensated by the riyals they earn.

Leaving behind fathers and mother, brothers and sisters, wives and children, these foreign expatriates who reside amongst us ask little of us as they fulfill their duties. And yet they love and feel like the rest of us; the joys and pains that course through our emotions are not alien to them. Separated on a day meant for togetherness, many will celebrate Eid in solitude and bitter loneliness.

Let us honor them like we honor our own. Let us bestow upon them our best wishes as we do upon those near and dear to us. Let us thank them and expatriates of other faiths as well for the difficult sacrifices they are making daily in leaving their loved ones behind and coming to this country to help us forge a better life. Many move around us, barely visible or seen. Yet they continue in their toils, expecting very little thanks or gratitude from their hosts while putting in an honest day’s work.

Let us begin by ensuring that their rights are protected and dispensed with in the manner and spirit that Ramadan has roused in us. The Prophet (pbuh) said, "The merciful ones will be shown mercy by the all-Merciful (Allah). Be merciful to those on Earth, Allah will be merciful to you." This mercy extends to the proper execution of our obligations to our guest workers.
Some of my dearest and oldest friends now live in the Gulf, or grew up there--some have spent a couple or three generations there now. There are guest workers in a lot of countries we live in, whether in the East or the West. Let us keep them in our minds in this festival season.

As Mike Ghouse says in the piece above, "We wish a happy Ramadan, a peaceful and prosperous Rosh Hashanah, and truth triumphing Navaratri and other festivals that begin with the New Moon on September 19, this year."

Blessed be.
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