Ever since I was young, the holiday season has been my favorite time of year – despite the fact that I am a Muslim.
Aside from the occasional “secret Santa” exchange at work, I don’t harvest a bounty of gifts. I don’t put up a Christmas tree or light a menorah. My seasonal decorating these days begins and ends with an occasional drive past the more elaborate Christmas light shows in nearby neighborhoods.
But having been born and raised in the United States, and being the curious sort, I find it fascinating to learn more about the religious significance of the holidays.
At a midnight mass one Christmas Eve with Catholic friends, I felt the piety and God-consciousness close to my heart. Whether I was performing in Christmas plays as a child, decorating the trees of neighbors, or caroling with friends, Christmas stories have always resonated with me.
The story of Mary and Joseph, the outsiders who search in vain for room at the inn, feels especially relevant to my experience as a Muslim in America. Muslims, too, have searched for a place to fit in during the holiday season.
Which brings us, particularly this year, to Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice.
You may not be aware that right now, millions of your fellow Americans are celebrating a third religious holiday of great significance. Eid al-Adha is the culmination of the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and the sacrifice of the name refers to Abraham’s willingness to kill his son in a test of faith in God.
If you aren’t familiar with Eid al-Adha, I’m not surprised. Eid is relegated to brief reports on the evening news and portrayed as if it were solely an overseas event.
But just as my life was enriched by learning about Christian and Jewish traditions, I believe that Muslim holidays have something to contribute to the larger society as well. And I find it frustrating that Muslim religious holidays are, even after all these years, absent from the American cultural scene.
In India, where my parents came from, it’s common for Hindus to visit Sufi shrines, for Muslims to pay their respects to the Virgin Mary at churches, and for Christians to participate in Holi, a Hindu festival. Here in America, a land endeared to faith, many Muslims I grew up with greet others with “Merry Christmas” and send Christmas cards. Some of us even put up Christmas trees.
So is it too much to ask for some recognition of our holiday? For some room at the inn?
If this year’s holiday tent were expanded just a bit to include Eid celebrations, it would go a long way toward cross-religious understanding.
Yes, there are Eid postage stamps available for sending holiday cards (something available in no other Western country), and there’s the occasional “Eid Mubarak” greeting aired as a public service announcement on TV. But it’s the person-to-person interaction that can have the most impact.
Unlike their Abrahamic equivalents, Muslim holidays don’t come around every December. They are based on a lunar calendar, which means they shift backward at the rate of about 10 days per year with respect to the Gregorian calendar. That makes it a bit difficult to sync our festivities with those of non-Muslims.
But I see a bright side to this holiday mobility. As Muslim holidays move throughout the calendar year, they have the opportunity to coincide with the holidays of other faiths. And each time, there is a potential for cross-pollination that can enrich the larger community.
I know it can be hard for people to share their most “religious” holidays with those not of their faith. But we are all children of God, and I believe the commonalities between us will shine over the differences.
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com. This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.