Wednesday: The Big Picture
I am spending my day traveling between two American traditions that celebrate the pilgrims (From Plymouth Rock to the Black Stone in Mecca). Wednesday night we started driving a little later than we should have. By the time my wife and kids got on the road from the Washington suburbs heading to Cleveland, Ohio it looked like everybody, i mean everybody, was on their way to grandma’s house (in our case Grandpa and Enah’s).
This year we decided to take the trek to grandma and grandpa’s house knowing that for me an American Imam it means: Thursday is Thanksgiving and the day of Arafat (fasting day until sunset) and Friday is Eid Al-Adha (The highest holy day in the Muslim calendar)…between checking my family into the hotel near the ancestral homeland ranch (Macedonia, outside of Cleveland), leaving the Thanksgiving table without eating to catch a flight to Washington on the cheapest flight – thats routes you through the hub-and-spoke system to get to DC Thursday night, the mosque for prayers on holiest day in the Muslim calendar (Eid Al-Adha: Feast of Sacrifice/Hajj) which happens to fall this year on a Friday, then giving the Friday -jumah service and flying back to Cleveland for Eid and left-overs from Thanksgiving. I had my work cut out for me.
Wednesday night: Heading Home
Checked-in to the hotel near the family – a journey that usually takes 5-1/2 hours took (4pm-12:30am) 8-1/2 hours 🙂
Thursday Thanksgiving Morning Day: The Journey
That morning I got up before dawn, ate my sahur – the morning meal before dawn (i.e.. what I could find at the convenience store – a very-ripe banana they were going throw away & “Naked” Superfood juice), prepared for the day ahead and made my prayers before sunrise.
The family got up to go to the airport in Cleveland to pick-up my son, Mustafa, that just returned from a semester in India with the LeapNow program. Hubs and kisses and then to the Enah and Grandpa’s. We got in more hugs and kisses and then back to the airport to ship me back to DC for my duties as outreach director and imam at one of the nation’s most famous (infamous) and populous mosques, Dar Al-Hijrah.
My wife reminded me that in all my haste to get on the road that my nine year old had been asking to have her (new-to-you big-sister-hand-me-down) bunk-bed be assembled for before Eid. My little girl had taken it as a promise. When I got home to an empty house that Thanksgiving night I had a Sí, se puede moment. I can make the deadline for Eid. I got out my tools and went to work, put the bed together, took a picture with my iPhone. First thing in the morning after Fajr prayers I first sent it via MMS to my wife’s phone, Eid Mubarak – Promise fulfilled – On time for Eid. My little one replied, “thank you dAddy”.
The day of gathering on Arafat: A Rehearsal for the Day of Judgement
Perhaps these two traditions, Hajj and Thanksgiving, have more in common than we think. The pilgrims have left their homes on a spiritual journey, for those on Hajj to visit the home of their spiritual grandfather (Father Abraham/Ibrahim). Abraham traveled to establish a place for the worship, just as the pilgrim mothers and fathers journeyed to America to find a place to worship freely. Since that time pilgrims from over the world have come to both of these destination to live and worship freely. The pilgrims have been journeying to Mecca since the time of Ibrahim and his family. These pilgrims (or Hujjaj) are making that journey in search of spiritual freedom, to start their lives a new. The journey of hajj symbolizes the journey and sacrifice of a family of faith.
Thursday Night: The Rock
I used to spend my summers as a youth in Cape Cod and one of our field trips was to Plymouth Rock. That history has some how become a part of me. My uncle Andrew taught me how to swim and ride a two-wheeler bicycle at Camp Tee Pee in Mashpee, MA and I learned that The Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England, on September 6/16, 1620 and land on Plymouth Rock. I got to stand on that rock.
And as a pilgrim on hajj after leaving Arafat I stood in the valley of Muzdelifah, where pilgrims gathered small pieces of rock to later stone satan walking in the footsteps of Ibrahim/Abraham. Those rocks are a symbol of redemption – freedom to worship God alone.
Friday: The Sacrifice
Each pilgrim (hujjaj) must sacrifice an animal and feast upon it and share with those in need. In our American Thanksgiving we sacrifice and share with others. The native (first nations) peoples sacrificed their food to help the pilgrims survive. Hajjar, the mother of Ismail/Ishmael, agreed to stay behind in the barren valley of Mecca with only a few provisions and her baby because she was willing to sacrifice. Ibrahim and Ismail agreed to a sacrifice. Their sacrifice was rewarded with abundance. This is one meanings of spiritual journey; to become better because of our willingness to sacrifice and share not knowing what the benefit will be, to endure the difficulties of the journey for the spiritual reward.
In these traditional meals there is something about the meat. The lamb is a symbol of the ram Allah/God substituted for Ismail, son of Ibrahim. The turkey has become a symbol of the native peoples willingness to sacrifice their winter provisions with the pilgrims. The tradition of Prophet is to share with the needy 1/3 of our meat.
My spiritual big-brother from another mother, Khalil, turned me on to halal turkey. You do it yourself, it’s fresh, quality, sized right and you know want you’re getting. in this way Khalil’s Muslim family can eat freely from the Thanksgiving Day festivities with wanton abandon and in doing so started a tradition. I never did it (sacrifice a turkey in the Islamic way) but it made an impression of me. He had made Thanksgiving “Muslim style”.
Thanksgiving is the easiest of American traditions to reconcile with Islam, after all, it’s non-religious and family oriented. Our families get together and it gives us a chance to let our ‘headscarf-down’ (so to speak). It is our national family dinner night. As an American Muslim my kids get the best of both worlds. They get grandma’s cooking and networking with friends, the family of your choosing – my Muslim family.
Our American holidays are fixed in the solar or Gregorian calendar and our Muslim holidays are based on the lunar of the Arabs calendar before the time of the prophet Muhammad but the marking of the years begins with the establishment of the City of the Prophet in 622CE. When the Muslim holy days converge on our national holidays we can go all out with our faith and our culture as American (Off from work and school with everybody else). The convergence only happens the each holiday-holy day every 33 years but we get multiple shots at it. We get all the permutations of Christmas (A), Thanksgiving (B), Eid Al-Fitr (1), Eid Al-Adha (2) and Ramadan (3-4). One friend asked me why don’t we adjust the Muslim holy days (lunar based) as the Jewish community does to keep them all clustered together (Christian-Jewish-Muslim holiday season). I told him I don’t it’s going to happen. But I have been wrong before.
Now after the Eid prayers and Jumah* at the mosque , i have boarded a plane and heading back to get my turkey and lamb on with my family, in-laws and Muslims in Cleveland on the first day of Eid Al-Adha with lamb, Egyptian Foul, bean pie, macaroni and cheese halal turkey, oyster stuffing and plenty of gravy (I gotta stop…). For my faith (Islam-the way of surrender), my family and American diversity, I am try grateful.
And for all this thanksgiving don’t forget the native peoples who gave what they had so that we could survive. How can we ever pay them back for their sacrifice?
Whatever the case know that this year in Mecca there are Pilgrims from Turkey that are praying for us all.
*Jumah Prayer: Friday Congregational worship which is optional for most people who have prayed the eid prayer)