Zar Alam Khan: Muslims ponder tolerance in US.
Published in Providence Journal, Rhode Island
By ZAR ALAM KHAN
On Aug.19, Rhode Island's small Muslim community celebrated one of the Islamic calendar year's most important festivals: Eidul Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
As the Eid fell on that Sunday, the venues of two special congregations witnessed crowds of men, women and children of all ages, color, races and geographical backgrounds.
The first sessions of the special prayers were held at about 9 a.m. at Roger Williams Park, in Providence, and at Masjid Al-Islamia, in North Smithfield. These were followed by two more congregations at both of these places for those who could not make it earlier.
The day for observance of Eidul Fitr in Muslim countries is fixed by a committee of religious clerics who usually sit on the 29th of the lunar month for the sighting of the new moon. But Muslims in America celebrate the Eid on the same date as the people of Saudi Arabia.
The main event on the Eid day is the early morning congregation in an open space or inside a worship place to offer the Eid prayers, after which the participants embrace and greet each other. This year, after the Eid prayers, the participants were also asked to get themselves registered as voters for the forthcoming elections in the country.
Before the Eid approaches, Muslims prepare special dresses that they wear on the Eid day. As a result, markets in Muslim-dominated countries remain packed and crowded with shoppers throughout the month. Muslims also decorate their houses for the big event. After the main congregation on the Eid day, Muslims go to meet their relatives and invite others to their houses for special feasts. This festival brings special joys for children, as they are given presents and Eidi, a kind of tip in the form of crisp new notes of currency.
Jeena Santos Ahmed says her 3-year-old daughter this year helped her decorate their house and prepare special cookies called "kahk el Eid," which are traditionally served on Eidul Fitr in Egypt, where her husband was born. According to her, the Eid celebrations vary among Muslims in Rhode Island. Some people make a big deal about it and others just go to pray and then go to their jobs if it is a work day.
The governments of countries with a Muslim majority declare three-day public holidays to provide time for people to celebrate the festival. In many of America's states, too, educational institutions give special holidays to their Muslim students and faculty on the occasion.
Rhode Island's Muslim community consists of about 8,000 people who live in different parts of the state. As the state is multi-cultural and multi-lingual, so are the Muslims, who have Asian, African or European origins. There are also local people who have converted to Islam and their number, according to the Muslims here, is growing.
The pluralistic environment in the United States has provided a fertile ground for these migrants to practice their religion and pursue their ways of life. Sideeq Chaudhry recalled that when he first came to Rhode Island 27 years ago, there was no mosque in the state. Now there are six, as well as the Islamic School of Rhode Island, which provides education to the Muslim children up to the eighth grade.
At the same time, since 9/11, Muslims have faced rising hatred in the country. The terrorist attack changed the thinking of the world about the Muslims, says Mufti Ikramul Haq, the imam of Masjid Al-Islamia. After the incident, news about Muslims was negative and people started looking at them with suspicion.
However, he hastens to add that the Muslims have always received immense support from the local community. "Whenever we faced difficult times, people from our neighborhood would turn up at our mosque to express solidarity and assure us of all help," he tells said, sitting in his small office at the mosque, with security cameras monitoring the building from all the sides. Local Muslims were also extended all types of support at their workplaces, he says.
Recently, when the signboard of the Sayles Hill Road mosque was vandalized by an unknown person, Muslims were fearful because it coincided with the mass killing at the Wisconsin Sikh temple and rising hate crimes against the Muslims elsewhere. But the support coming from non-Muslim Americans was phenomenal again, according to Haq: "Among those who visited and sympathized with us were the local congressman, the [U.S.] attorney and common residents. The local police and FBI officials also extended their full support and provided extra security to our religious place."
People continued calling and visiting the mosque to see if they could help. In response, the head of the mosque invited them to join the Muslims at the Iftar when they break the fast in every evening during Ramadan.
The major issue Muslims face is that people do not understand the truth about Islam. Much of the information they receive about the religion is negative. However, Dr. Chaudhry says the most important thing here is that Americans have great tolerance and there are avenues where Islam has made inroads. After 9/11, people became more interested in Islam, and today there is more awareness of the religion than ever before. Even the U.S. Postal Service issues a stamp on the eve of every Eid.
Abdul Hakim, from Nigeria, seconds Dr. Chaudhry, and says that though 9/11 put the Muslims in an awkward position, their number in the United States is on the rise. A number of people here started converting to Islam even after the Gulf war in early 1990s.
Zar Alam Khan (email@example.com) is a Pakistani journalist who works for the Dawn newspaper in Islamabad. He has been visiting The Providence Journal under an exchange program, the U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in Journalism. He also owns and edits a news Web site (chitraltoday.net).
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.