A Big Blow against Islamophobia: New Castle County Recognizes Islamic Holidays

A Big Blow against Islamophobia: New Castle County Recognizes Islamic Holidays April 20, 2016


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April 19th will be go down in history as a truly important moment for the Muslims of Delaware. On this day, County Executive Tom Gordon, read a proclamation recognizing the two Eids, Al-Fitr and Al-Adha, that Muslims celebrate. The proclamation is truly a landmark moment for Muslims in Delaware. It not only recognizes Islamic holidays but also recognizes the contributions that Muslims have made to human civilization in the past and continue to make to New Castle County’s culture, its economy, it spirituality and its political development, today.

Longtime residents, community members, interfaith leaders including Rev. Greg Jones and Rabbi Michael Beals, and many school children where at the county building to witness this wonderful moment. The atmosphere at the reading was festive and emotions were palpable. Tom Gordon’s voice trembled noticeably when he read the proclamation. It was clear that he was aware of the symbolic and historic significance of what he was doing. At a time when Islam and Muslims are being vilified in the media and by politicians seeking national office, when anger and hatred towards Muslims is at its zenith, he was bucking the national trend by recognizing and embracing the Muslim community and making them feel truly at home.

The reality that Muslim holidays are not public holidays presents great hardship to the   practicing members of the community. Islam is a very communal religion and many of its worships and rituals are congregational. On Eid holidays Muslims get together to offer special Eid prayers as a community, which is followed by a short sermon. After that they exchange gifts, go as groups to restaurants for lunches and brunches. Usually one or two of the mosques host fairs and bazaars and children enjoy attending and indulging in the games and sports that are on offer. The day ends with a community dinner either in homes or in mosques. It is an opportunity to meet, greet and enjoy a common faith and a shared celebration with family and friends.

But many of us have to work; children sometimes have exams or extensive homework and even academic events on Eid days. The American political, cultural and work calendar does not yet respect Islamic culture and holidays. It is frustrating for our children specially when they have to stay at home for Christmas and for Rosh Hashanah, doing nothing while watching their friends, celebrate. When it is their turn they have to go to school or Dad or Mom has to work. Not exactly a picture of happiness. It is unfair and unjust and anyone with any sense of equity should be offended by this reality.

For decades Muslims have made periodic efforts to gain recognition for their holidays but they failed. At the ceremony there were present two American Muslim Imams who had tried in 1980s but were rebuffed. In recent months several places have recognized Eid in the US. Montgomery County in MD has declared a public holiday for Eid in September 2016, and NY City, last year, recognized Islamic holidays and public schools were closed in observance.

In the past few months, the Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs initiated and conducted the dialogue with the New Castle County that has resulted in today’s extraordinary proclamation. The discussion and planning were long but the reward was worth the hard work. I am a co-founder of the Delaware Council and along with my two colleagues, Naveed Baqir and Jamil Tourk, we reached out to community and political leaders and put together an interfaith coalition to support the vision and outreach of County Executive Gordon, who from the moment the issue was broached expressed his support for it and cooperated with the Delaware Council every step of the way.

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Thomas Gordon recognizing Islamic holidays in New Castle County, DE

For Tom Gordon, this proclamation is one of many initiatives that he has undertaken to reach out to minority communities and address their justifiable concerns within the purview of existing law. He helped us with a conference on policing and provided security for Delaware Council’s regional convention on Social Justice in December 2015. He has established a community-law enforcement task force to handle crisis situations and developed protocols for protection of religious places. It took President Obama, allegedly a Muslim president, more than seven years to muster the courage to visit a mosque in America. Tom Gordon has frequently visited and spoken at many of the area’s mosques and Muslim events.

For Delaware Council this proclamation was a powerful tonic. We constituted ourselves on the basis of our faith in the American way. If we organize and engage the system it will deliver. That is our belief and today we got our proof. It has made many Muslims in the area feel far more at home in Delaware than ever before. The anxiety levels elevated by the discourse from people like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, have been significantly calmed.

We have a long way to go before Islamic holidays are holidays in Delaware. But this is an energizing beginning. I want to end this celebration with a quote from my daughter, Ruhi Khan, who spoke at the event and captured our sentiments beautifully – “this is a small step forward for Muslims but a big blow against Islamophobia.”

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Ruhi Khan: “This is a small step forward for Muslims but a big blow against Islamophobia”.

This article was first published in The News Journal.

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