Is Thanksgiving a religious holiday or a secular one. Should Muslims be celebrating the holiday?
The fourth Thursday of November was fixed as the official Thanksgiving Day by U.S. congress in 1941. However the tradition dates back three centuries earlier. The first official Thanksgiving is believed to be celebrated after the harvest in Plymouth, New England in 1621 by the pilgrims. Even prior to that, it was customary for many of the pilgrims to give thanks, mostly after the harvest in the autumn.
Of course we cannot talk about the history of the pilgrims celebrating the harvest without pointing out the atrocities, ethnic cleansing and frankly speaking, the genocide of the native Americans. Within hours of the initial post, I was correctly reminded by many of readers about this important aspect of the history behind thanksgiving day. Indeed there are many, including native American, who do not observe the thanksgiving holiday and in fact refer to it as massacre, slaughter and ethnic cleansing.
Is Thanksgiving a religious holiday?
In its current state, the Thanksgiving Day is rather secular celebration. However its roots clearly indicates a religious background- to give thanks to God Almighty for the blessings, especially after a productive harvest.
It has been celebrated as a federal holiday since the Thanksgiving proclamation by President Lincoln during the civil war on October 3, 1863.
In his proclamation, he referred to God Almighty multiple times. 
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.
Should American Muslims Celebrate Thanksgiving?
A more appropriate question is, “why shouldn’t they?”
American Muslims, like their fellow citizens, have indeed a lot to be thankful for.
However, the atrocities and genocide against the native Americans must not be forgotten.
As mentioned above, the day has religious roots, and thanking God Almighty is fundamental to the Islamic faith. Islam means submission, and submission and thankfulness go hand in hand.
There is nothing unIslamic about celebrating Thanksgiving Day. In fact, I would argue it is very Islamic thing to do.
The Holy Qur’an repeatedly asks the followers to be thankful to God and remember His bounties. Prophet Muhammad asked his followers to be thankful to others. Surah Rahmaan (The Beneficent), chapter 55 of the Qur’an, is a perfect example where God repeatedly reminds us of all the bounties, and then asks us this question in a verse that repeats over and over:
Which then of the bounties of your Lord will you deny?
The following verse links the faith (‘Imaan”) with gratefulness, and ungratefulness with a state of unbelief.
Then remember Me and I will remember you. Be thankful to Me and do not reject the Faith and I will bless you. The Qur’an 2:152
And this verse says it all.
And if you would count Allah’s favors, you will not be able to enumerate them; most surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. The Qur’an 16:18
Thankfulness to God is the purpose of our creation, but most remain unthankful.
And God brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers knowing nothing, and gave you hearing and sight and hearts that haply you might give thanks (to God). The Qur’an 16:78
For Allah is full of bounty to mankind, but Most of them are ungrateful. The Qur’an 2:243
In a set of verses that may most closely reflect the spirit of thanksgiving, we are reminded of the bounty that is in the harvest.
A Sign for them is the earth that is dead: We do give it life, and produce grain therefrom, of which ye do eat.And We produce therein orchard with date-palms and vines, and We cause springs to gush forth therein. That they may eat of the fruit thereof, and their hands did not make it; will they not then be grateful? The Qur’an 36:33-35
Thankfulness in the Bible:
Thankfulness is a key message and oft-repeated theme in the Bible as well. Here is a small sample.
Give thanks to the God of heaven, For His loving kindness (graciousness, mercy, compassion) endures forever. Palms 136:26
Give thanks to Adonai; for he is good, for his grace continues forever. Psalm 107:1
We give thanks to you, Lord God All-Powerful. You are the One who is and who was. We thank you because you have used your great power and have begun to rule. Revelation 11:17Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. Psalm 107:8-9
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. 1 Chronicles 16:34
Thanking others is thanking God
“There is no better way to thank God for your sight than by giving a helping hand to someone in the dark.” Helen Keller
Prophet Muhammad in a famous Hadith from Tirmidhi (a collection of Prophet’s sayings) connected gratefulness to God with expressing thanks to people- not just Muslims or religious people, but all people.
“One who does not thank people, does not thank Allah.”
In fact the mental health experts agree that gratefulness to others is a positive attribute that leads to better health and wellness. Conversely, the ungrateful people tend to be unhappy and more prone to develop health problems.
The Science behind Gratefulness
Professor Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, California and editor in chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology is a leading expert on the psychology of gratefulness. In a study published in 2003, he showed that gratefulness causes higher level of well-being, and the grateful slept better and more, felt a greater sense of optimism and connectedness to others.
More recently he reported that gratefulness results in higher performance at work and improved relationship at work.
Dr. Michael McCullough is another psychologist who has researched the science of gratitude and wellness. In a study he conducted along with Dr. Emmons, referenced in Harvard Health Publishing, they asked the participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics and whether they were grateful.
One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
My personal thanks:
So on this Thanksgiving Day, I am happy to report I am very grateful.
I know it might seem like an Oscar acceptance speech (that I was never invited for), but I almost feel obligated to share my personal feelings here.
I am thankful to God Almighty for all His bounties. I am thankful for my parents, my wife, my children, my health, and my extended family and the opportunity to have a family get-together today. I am thankful for the opportunity to perform hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) this year- a journey that I could only dream about, until this year.
And for putting me in a position to help the sick.
I am thankful for things I know of, and so many more that I am not even aware of. I know I would not be able to thank God enough, even if I thanked Him 24/7.
I am also thankful to all my friends, my co-workers, to Patheos and my channel manager (ever energetic and helpful, Dilshad Ali), my neighbors, my Islamic center and my community, especially the interfaith community. I am sure I am still missing many people.
And thankful for football on Thanksgiving? You bet.
I am thankful to be living in the United States.
I am thankful for the opportunity to live my life without oppression. I am thankful to be able to offer my Friday prayers freely without fearing for my life. (OK, things have gotten a little tense lately, but still…) I am thankful to have the opportunity to vote for the future leaders, pursue my dreams and raise my children where they can pursue their dreams, without regards to their race, religion or ethnicity.
Sure we have regressed a bit lately, and I realize there needs to be a lot of work that needs to be done to bring about harmony and social justice for African Americans, immigrants and so many other minorities and other groups.
But there is still a lot to be thankful for. A lot.
What are you thankful for?
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