Beyond the obvious irrational discussion about Park51, I'm afraid that Americans are being lied to regarding how Muslims feel about the tragedy of 9/11. And it's important this year, because those Americans might see their Muslim neighbors celebrating a holiday on that day--it's Saturday this year--for a completely unrelated reason.
And I want to clear up the confusion.
One disconcerting (yet utterly false) claim I've heard regarding Park51 is that Muslims supposedly like to build mosques on the sacred sites of conquered lands. How is that related to Park51? (Yeah, it's a leap; bear with me.) The enemies of Islam have been portraying the tragic loss of some 3000 lives 9 years ago as a "victory" for Islam. Let's be clear--it was nothing but a brutal tragedy, and has only been condemned by Muslim leaders--including the imam behind the project, by the way. Islam did not attack, but the terrorists (they don't even represent Islam--let's clear the air of that foul and false association) who did attack are hiding in caves--not what I'd call a victory by any definition. Ground Zero hardly resembles a "conquest." And nobody's building a mosque (or anything else I'm aware of) on Ground Zero.
The reason I say it's a false claim in the first place is because I've never even heard of Muslim building mosques on "sacred sites." In fact, there's a story about 'Umar ibn al-Khattab at the conquest of Jerusalem acting in order to preserve a holy site, so that a mosque would not be built on top of it. The reasons Muslims do build mosques, however, is to pray in them. And they build them in locations where Muslims live and work--since it's recommended to pray in them daily. So when there are Muslims in Manhattan, there need also be a mosque, or at least a "prayer space" for them in Manhattan. Nothing sinister about that.
But the fact that this claim is polluting the airways is causing a problem--corroding the barrier of common sense in people's minds which protects them from irrational paranoia. And I'm afraid that one piece of information might tip the balance. What information? The trivial date of an Islamic holiday--Eid al-Fitr.
You see, it's possible that Muslims might find themselves celebrating a festive day in their religion on the same day that Americans (and Muslim Americans too) are mourning the tragedy of 9/11. And I fear that anyone swimming in the sea of misinformation about Islam might find themselves drowning without a proper understanding of the context of this holiday.
Muslims celebrate essentially two major holidays each lunar year of the Islamic calendar. The days are called Eids, and they are Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The lunar Islamic calendar has 12 lunar months, each 29 or 30 days--depending on the lunar cycle. Here's a bit of math:
There are 12 months, each having an average of 29.5 days (average of 29 and 30), resulting in a yearly total of about 354 days. In a solar year there are 365 days--probably what you learned back in grade school, since the calendar followed by the Western world, which runs from January to December, is based on a solar year, with 365 days. Why the discrepancy? Because they just don't line up.
It's okay, except that the Islamic lunar calendar--with only 354 days--will seem to move forward each year, since it's about 12 days shorter. There's no leap month every once in a while to keep the lunar calendar fixed against the solar one, it just keeps on moving, every year.
This means that Ramadan starts about a week and a half earlier (in the solar calendar) each year than the previous year. Two years ago it started on the 1st of September, last year it started in mid-late August, and this year it started in early-mid August. Next year, God willing, it will start at the very beginning of August or end of July.
But let's get back to the holidays--one of them occurs right at the end of Ramadan. It's called Eid al-Fitr. And this year, Ramadan ends right around September 11th. The Eid will consist of a congregational prayer early in the morning, just like it does every year at the end of Ramadan. Muslims will then celebrate it with family and friends by cooking, visiting, eating, maybe even sharing gifts.
Because the start and end of Ramadan is based on different criteria in different communities, it might not be universally celebrated on one day or another. But the day on which Eid is celebrated has no significance to the solar date, as it moves every year as well. So the holiday itself has nothing to do with the tragedy of September 11th, which I might point out was nowhere near the Eid 9 years ago, the year of the tragedy.
And while the prayer associated with Eid really can't be moved, I think it is wise for Muslim communities to try to schedule Eid-related weekend fairs and carnivals around the tragedy (by having them on Sunday the 12th instead of Saturday the 11th, or Saturday the 18th instead of the 11th.) However, this decision is up to local communities and the resources available to them. I've heard of many communities scheduling events deliberately off of the September 11th date in order to avoid local controversies, and to be more sensitive to Americans who choose that day to mourn that tragedy.
But more importantly, it is critical for us, as Muslims, to explain what the holiday Eid al-Fitr is about, and why its celebration has nothing to do with 9/11, despite the overlap in dates this year. If anyone is mistaken about why Muslims are celebrating, maybe it's our fault for not explaining ourselves in advance--and that's all I'm trying to do.
I'd like for this to be distributed and widely read--any recommendations for edits would be greatly appreciated in the comments section or by email. Thanks!