When a Muslim holiday falls on 9/11

Because of the lunar calendar, the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr falls on or near 9/11. Many Muslim centers in America are canceling, scaling back, or shifting festivities. What's motivating them?

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    Children ride a merry-go-round at an Eid al-Fitr celebration at the D.C. Armory in Washington, D,C. on Nov. 25, 2003. The celebration marks the end of the month-long fasting period of Ramadan.
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As the world focuses on a tiny church in Florida and whether it will follow through with a Koran burning on 9/11, Muslims in America have also been thinking about what they will do on that day.

They've asked themselves whether they should cancel or adjust their end-of-Ramadan festivities – a celebration sometimes called the Muslim Christmas – because this year it happens to fall on or close to 9/11.

Ramadan is a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting, determined by a lunar calendar. Its close is marked by the Eid al-Fitr festival, which includes celebration and giving of gifts.

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The Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, Md., is scaling back plans for Eid al-Fitr. It will only have religious services; no food, singing, dancing, or henna decorating. “People are taking care not to do any celebrations on the day of 9/11, because it is a day of tragedy and we have to be sensitive," said Rashid Makhdoom, who is on the center's board of directors, in comments to The Washington Post.

Respect for a tragic day in a nation’s history. That can be a positive motivator.

But what about fear as a reason for Muslims holding back at Eid al-Fitr? That, too, appears to be an issue in Islamic communities in the US. The Islamic center in Fresno, Calif., for instance, has canceled its traditional pony rides, games, and carnival attractions for children because of “a serious fear among members of this community,” Imam Seyed Ali Ghazvini told The Los Angeles Times.

Given the explosive debate over an Islamic center near ground zero, “we thought it [the celebration] might be misunderstood and create a wave of attacks on our faith and community,” the imam said.

I suspect there’s a mix of fear and respect at work in these decisions. It’s hard to argue with an action based on respect. But fear is a treacherous motivator, especially in this case, and in this country, which is founded on religious freedom. Why should Muslims not be able to celebrate even if that coincides with 9/11?

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