Do Muslims celebrate Thanksgiving? This is a frequently asked question.
Sura Al-Fatiha—Quran Chap 1.
In the name of Allah/God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful, praise be to Allah/God – The Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds. Most Gracious, Most Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgment, Thee do we worship and Thine aid we seek. Show us the straight way, the way of those on whom Thou has bestowed Thy grace, those whose portion is not wrath and who do not astray.
During the daily mandatory five prayers; Muslims recite this chapter at least 17 times, so a Muslim is constantly thankful to Allah/God.
Sometimes we take things for granted and behave as if we created ourselves and acquired everything we have from our own efforts.
It is He who brought you forth from the wombs of your mother when you knew nothing, and He gave you hearing and sight and intelligence and affections, that you may give thanks to God.Q 16:78 – Al Nahl
Thus, the concept of giving thanks immediately raises the question: to whom, for what, and how should we express our thanks? We thank God for everything we have, for everything good that happens to us.
Everything good that happens to you (O Mankind) is from God; everything bad that happens to you is from your own actions
.Q 4:79 Sura Al Nisa
We thank Him for creating us as humans, the best of creation, with intelligence and five portals to decide what is right and wrong.
Have we not given him (Mankind) two eyes, a tongue and a pair of lips, and shown Him the two highways of good and evil?
Qur’an 90:8-10 – Sura Al Balad or The City.
Our Creator, who sustained us through nine months of helpless intrauterine life, continued to provide us with food and other materials to sustain us throughout our life.
O you who believe! Partake of good things which we have provided for you as sustenance, and render thanks to God, if it is truly Him that you worship.Qur’an 2:172 – Sura Al Baqarah
Thanksgiving -A Unique American Tradition
THANKSGIVING is my preferred holiday. No denominational strings are attached to this week’s observance. Thanksgiving has not been taken hostage by the extravagance of gift giving or the burdens of shopping. Built around the meal, the feast celebrates the exquisite tension between appetite and its satisfaction. Honoring the turning of the year, it is a first pushing back against winter’s cold darkness with the warmth and light of fireplaces, candles, the illuminations of reunion.
True, Thanksgiving legends evoke the conflict between white European settlers and the native peoples who welcomed them but, even so, this holiday points more to inclusion than displacement. The Pilgrims of the first Thanksgiving were grateful not for their material gains, but simply that they had survived their first winter in the New World. Generations of varied immigrant groups have identified as Americans by embracing this holiday – and its peculiar menu.
What we love most is Thanksgiving’s underlying idea: that existence itself is a gift. If the holiday ritual calls for the bounty of culinary excess – four side dishes, three kinds of pie, two forms of cranberry – it is not to celebrate affluence but to acknowledge the accidental richness of life itself. The multiple desserts are tribute to all that we don’t deserve. In taking time away from work, we are remembering that the most precious things are those that we do nothing to earn. Can you imagine if we had to pay for the air we breathe?
As an immigrant Muslim, I consider myself to be a part of America’s journey. I did not leave history behind, like unwanted baggage at Immigration’s door. Our particular pasts and our shared present are wedded in hyphenated names: Arab-Americans, Indian-Americans, Bangladeshi-Americans, Pakistani-Americans, Egyptian-Americans, and Palestinian/Kashmiri-Americans. We are not always on a first-name basis with one another. But we quickly become acquainted in playgrounds and classrooms, in college dorms and military barracks, and in offices and factories, and at ICLI. We feel at home.
Qur’an 49:13—Al- Hujarat
O Mankind – We created you from a single pair of man and woman. Made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous. Allah has full knowledge.
This Quranic verse guides us as to our approach towards those who are different from us.
In some parts of the world our differences would be threatening – not here.
We feel enriched. In America, our differences resonate in our names, language, food, and music. They inspire art and produce champions and leaders.
We feel free to disagree. We are a family, and what is a family gathering without debate?
We believe in fairness. In America, the loudest voice does not always have the last word, and every voice has a right to be heard.
We rely on faith. In a sturdy and tested framework of law and government that works because of the confidence we place in it and in each other, the first amendment clearly states: Congress shall make no law respecting, an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Progress can be slow as we propose and protest, argue and advocate. But we are grateful to be part of this vigorous democracy. We enjoy its unparalleled privileges and accept its obligations: to pursue our dreams while helping others; to advance our convictions while respecting other; to advance our convictions while being tolerant of others; to prepare our children for the gift of the American journey.
We are stewards of America – her ideals and institutions, her cities and natural beauty. We are entrusted to understand America’s past and guide her future; to create an ever more just America that is secure and free, abundant and caring for all her inhabitants. We are thankful for the freedom to worship. We are thankful for the tax exempt status ICLI and other faith based centers enjoy, indirectly the federal govt. is subsidizing all such Mosques, Churches, Temples, Gurdawaras and Synagogues. We are thankful for the freedom to speak our minds. We are thankful for the freedom to change our minds. We are thankful for the freedom to chart our lives. We are thankful for the freedom to work for a better world. We are thankful for the freedom to celebrate this day. We are thankful for the opportunity to vote and 95% of Muslims exercised that right on Nov 4th 2008.
Remembering the words of Surah Nisaa (Qur’an 4:97), we thank God for giving us, “a spacious land” of freedom and opportunity, to which Allah has allowed “migration of the weak and oppressed," so that we may live and prosper. This verse describes the experience of millions of arriving immigrants when they first saw the Statue of Liberty, with its inscription penned by Emma Lazarus, a descendant of Jewish immigrants: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We appreciate that gratitude is a function not of how much we have, but rather of how much we have relative to how much we deserve.
In America, each of us is entitled to a place at the Thanksgiving table.
We are thankful to Sarah Josepha Hale who’s persistence led President Abraham Lincoln to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 and later President Franklin Roosevelt designated the fourth Thursday of November for Thanksgiving. Though there is some difference of opinion it’s generally accepted that the first Thanksgiving celebration was celebrated in 1621.
As an ideal holiday, Thanksgiving expresses gratitude, focusing on family and friendship and showing appreciation for a land of freedom and opportunity. However, while we thank Allah for all the gifts that have been bestowed on us, we are mindful of the challenges facing American-Muslims.
Judging by recent polls 49% of US citizens have unfavorable view of Islam, an increase of 10% from 2002. This, I believe is the outcome of the work of a well funded-- $42 million plus-- and well connected Islamophobic network comprising foundations, think tanks, pundits and bloggers who have launched a campaign to promote fear of Islam and Muslims in US. In 2010 election cycle the rallying cry was :”Ground Zero Mosque” in the 2012 election my guess is that we will hear about “Sharia law”.
The good news is that when people have access to accurate information and relate to ordinary Muslims, the perceptions and stereotypes change dramatically. Our Jihad – struggle, challenge – is to reach out to our colleagues, neighbors, co-workers. Here are nine principles adopted from the life and Sunnah of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), which might guide us in reaching out with our message of peace, love, tolerance, and mercy.
The First Principle: Take the easier path.
This principle is well explained in a saying of A’ishah. She said, “Whenever the Prophet had to choose between two options, he always opted for the easier choice. (Bukhari) To choose the easiest option means that you should evaluate your options and choose the most feasible. One who begins from the starting point will surely reach his goal.
The Second Principle: See advantage in disadvantage.
In the early days of Makkah, there were many problems and difficulties. At that time, a guiding verse in The Qur’an was revealed. It said, With every hardship there is ease, with every hardship there is ease. (94:5-6) Al-Inshirah
This means that if there are some problems, there are also opportunities at the same time. The way to success is to overcome the problems and avail the opportunities.
Post 9/11 there is a great desire to learn about Islam and Muslims. ICLI has engaged other faith communities in joint activities a good example being the 4th annual twinning program held at ICLI on Sunday Nov 13th in which three Imams and three Rabbis spoke about the concept of Islah and Tikkum Olam.
The Third Principle: Change the place of action.
This principle is derived from the Hijrah. The Hijrah was not just a migration from Makkah to Madinah. It was a journey to find a more suitable place to put Islam into action.
Physical migration and perseverance is an important element in establishing justice and peace. This also planted the roots of intellectual migration from the subjugated minds to an awakened spirit. It is my humble, personal opinion that the future, bright light of Islam will, Insha Allah, shine from the USA.
The Fourth Principle: Make a friend out of an enemy.
The Prophet of Islam was repeatedly subjected to practices of antagonism by the unbelievers. At that time, The Qur’an enjoined upon him the return of good for evil. The Qur’an added, “You will see your direst enemy has become your closed friend. (41:34) Ha Mim
It means that a good deed in return of a bad deed has a conquering effect over your enemies. And the life of the Prophet is a historical proof of this principle.
The greatest example of amnesty was shown by the Prophet after the bloodless conquest of Makkah. All enemies of Islam were granted pardon, including Hinda, the wife of Abu Sufyan, who had disemboweled the martyred body of Hamza, the Prophet’s uncle. On Friday Nov 18th 2011, the County Executive Edward Mangano invited the Muslims to the County office to celebrate Eid ul Adha, over 400 Mulsims attended—moved from “Outhouse to Mainhouse”
The Fifth Principle: Education is central to success.
After the Battle of Badr, about 70 of the unbelievers were taken as prisoners of war. They were educated people. The Prophet announced that if any one of them would teach ten Muslim children how to read and write he would be freed. This was the first school in the history of Islam in which all of the students were Muslims, and all of the teachers were from the enemy rank. Learn your skills from enemies.
The Sixth Principle: Don’t be a dichotomous thinker.
In the famous Battle of Mutah, Khalid Ibn Walid decided to withdraw Muslim forces from the battlefield because he discovered that they were disproportionately outnumbered by the enemy. When they reached Madinah, some of the Muslims received them by the word “O deserters!” The Prophet said, “No. They are men of advancement.”
Those Madinah people were thinking dichotomously, either fighting or retreating. The Prophet said that there is also a third option, and that is to avoid war and find time to strengthen yourself. Now history tells us that the Muslims, after three years of preparation, advanced again towards the Roman border and this time they won a resounding victory.
The Seventh Principle: Do not engage in unnecessary confrontation.
This principle is derived from the Treaty of Hudaybiyah. At that time, the unbelievers were determined to engage Muslims in fighting, because they were in an advantageous position. But the Prophet, by accepting their conditions unilaterally, entered into a pact. It was a ten-year peace treaty. Until then, the meeting ground between Muslims and non-Muslims had been on the battlefield. Now the area of conflict became that of ideological debate. Within two years, Islam emerged victorious because of the simple reason of its ideological superiority. This principle applies to us very aptly, we, the American Muslims need to live by the ideals of kindness, forgiveness and magnanimity to others and work hard striving towards perfection in whatever our vocation is.
The Eighth Principle: Gradualism instead of radicalism:
This principle is well established by a Hadith quoted in Bukhari. A’ishah says that the first verses of The Qur’an were related mostly to Heaven and Hell. After some time, when faith had taken hold in peoples’ hearts, God revealed specific commands to desist from unjust and self-deprecating social practices that were prevalent in the Arabian Dark Ages. This is clear proof that for social changes, Islam advocates the evolutionary method, rather than the revolutionary method. Revelations regarding prohibition of alcohol and gambling which were revealed over a period of time are very illustrative of this principle, Q2:219-There is great sin and some profit but the sin is greater, followed by Q4:43-praying in a drunken state is forbidden and finally Q5:90 total prohibition of alcohol and gambling.
The Ninth Principle:Be pragmatic in controversial matters.
During the writing of the Hudaybiyyah Treaty, the Prophet dictated these words: “This is from Muhammad, the Messenger of God.” The Quraysh delegate raised objections over these words. The Prophet promptly ordered the words to be changed to: “Muhammad, son of Abdullah.” This simple change placated the Quraysh delegate.
The ICLI leadership adopted this model of compromise when it applied for expansion of the current facility. The neighbors had some genuine concerns and after some discussions with them ICLI modified the plans and the Westbury Village gave the go ahead for the expansion project. Newsday wrote an editorial complimenting the Westbury Village and ICLI for the manner in which this issue was resolved and The National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University at its third annual gala banquet on Nov 17th 2011 recognized ICLI chair Mr Habeeb Ahmed and the Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro for their outstanding joint effort, which represents a model for the rest of the country.
These are just some of the principles by which the Prophet of Islam conducted his life. His achievements have been recognized by historians as the supreme success. We would be wise to live by following his example.
You have indeed in the Messenger of God a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in God and the Final Day. (Qur’an 33:21-Al-Ahzab)
Thus, we thank God not only for creating and sustaining us, but also for guiding us, for accepting our prayers and for forgiving us when we wrong ourselves. Thus, it is impossible for us to deny the favors of our Lord.
For how long, you will deny the favors of your Lord? (Qur’an: Surah Ar-Rahman) Surah 55 – This particular verse is repeated 31 times amongst the 78 verses.
Whoever is thankful (to God) is in fact thankful for his own self. But if anyone is ungrateful, God is self-sufficient and glorious. (Qur’an 31:12) Luqman
We thank God for giving us, to live and prosper a spacious land of freedom and opportunity, where “the weak and oppressed could migrate to.” (Quran 4:97)
This Quranic verse aptly describes the first welcome which millions of immigrants have experienced when they arrived on the shores of America and saw the Statue of Liberty with the inscription– Give me your oppressed, huddled masses.
We should thank Him by remembering Him, not on just one day a year but in our daily life. Remember Me, I will remember you, thank Me and reject Me not. (Qur’an 2:152) Al Baqarah.
In conclusion here is a short story which we need to keep in mind when things are not going well. This is why we shouldn’t get stressed out over L I T T L E things. After September 11th, one company invited the remaining members of other companies who had been decimated by the attack on the Twin Towers to share their available office space. At a morning meeting, the head of Security told stories of why these people were still alive….and it was amazing to see that it was all because of the L I T T L E things. As you might know, the head of the company got late that day because his son started kindergarten. Another fellow was alive because it was his turn to bring donuts. One woman was late because her alarm clock didn’t go off in time. One was late because of being stuck on the New Jersey Turnpike because of an auto accident. One of them missed his bus. One spilled food on her clothes and had to take time to change. One’s car wouldn’t start. One went back to answer the telephone. One had a child that dawdled and didn’t get ready as soon as he should have. One couldn’t get a taxi. The one that struck me was the man who put on a new pair of shoes that morning, took the fastest means to get to work, but before he got there, he developed a blister on his foot. He stopped at a drugstore to buy a Band-Aid. That is why he is alive today. Now, when I am stuck in traffic, miss an elevator, turn back to answer a ringing telephone, all the little things that annoy me, I think to myself, this is exactly where God wants me to be at this very moment. Next time your morning seems to be going wrong, the children are slow getting dressed, you can’t seem to find the car keys, you hit every traffic light, don’t get mad or frustrated, God is at work watching over you.
Dr. Khan, a physician, is a member of the board of trustees of the Islamic Center of Long Island(ICLI) (Westbury, NY). He is author of the book, Story of a Mosque in America (Cedar Graphics, 2000) which describes the establishment and growth of ICLI.