These reflections on family, identity and holiday traditions by Kristin Garrity Şekerci are part of the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan.
I was recently asked what my favorite holiday was. My kneejerk reaction?
Wait. I mean…Eid?
I have been celebrating Christmas my entire life, but Eid, and its lead up – Ramadan – for only the past few years. Don’t get me wrong, Eid is an incredibly important holiday to me, but it still does not hold a fanoos, I mean candle (just kidding), to Christmas. At least, not yet.
The question came at a poignant time. It was almost Ramadan, so that meant I was trying my best to get into the spirit. I was hanging up lights in my home, scouring Amazon for “Islamic” cookie cutters and Eid Advent calendars and considering sending out, for the first time, Eid holiday greeting cards to friends and family. And, of course, making sure our home was well-stocked with the latest Ramadan and Eid children’s books. Thanks, Curious George (and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt!!).
I was reminded again of that question when I stepped into a neighborhood church for Taraweeh prayer, the special night prayer that takes place during Ramadan. Yes, I said church. And, no, it wasn’t a Freudian slip. When I first stepped inside that marble-chilled church, I was immediately met with a lingering fragrance of incense and happy Sunday mornings. To hear Qur’anic recitation reverberate throughout its walls was powerfully evocative. A convergence.
As the years go by, Muslim reverts/converts are finding their footing and shaping their own traditions for Ramadan and Eid. These newfound holidays and holy days are growing on us. But maybe they will never hold the same place in our hearts as Christmas. Because Christmas, just like Ramadan and Eid, are really all about celebrating in community. With family, friends and loved ones.
Sadly, many American Muslims do not have loved ones to celebrate with. More often than not, reverts/converts are met with soured or tense relationships with family members after deciding to join the faith. Navigating these new and old traditions, therefore, can become a delicate, tricky balance. We try our best to firmly root our new holidays and traditions, while still respecting and loving the traditions we’ve celebrated our entire lives. Traditions that are inherently tied to familial bonds.
To say that today’s toxically saturated climate of Islamophobia exacerbates this fragile footing is an understatement. For many American Muslims, navigating these traditions – and the identities and relationships that are bound within – is an isolating (and even psychologically damaging) experience. Dangerously irresponsible and hate-inciting rhetoric by some of today’s leading figures is ripping families apart. Believe me, you don’t need a ban on Muslims to destroy families. Islamophobic rhetoric is already doing that.
But, in the spirit of Ramadan, I don’t want to end on a bad note. Personally, I can’t wait until Christmas and Ramadan/Eid sync up. We’ve got a ways to go – 15 some years – but what a convergence it will be! I hope and pray that, by then, as a national community, we will be able to celebrate these traditions together. Not only on our calendars, but in our hearts and homes as well.
Kristin Garrity Şekerci works at Georgetown University’s The Bridge Initiative, a multiyear research project on Islamophobia. She received her M.A. from American University in Ethics, Peace and Global Affairs and is active in the interfaith community in Washington, DC.
Determination - Illustrations by Sabba Khan
A Muslim Celebrating Christmas? - Sarah Ager
A Muslim Easter Bunny for Jewish Children? - Jillian Pikora