Amidst the traffic of another groggy Monday morning in Downtown Los Angeles, a few thousand Muslims gathered quietly in the Los Angeles Convention Center to celebrate The Islamic holiday Eid-Il-Fitr with a morning prayer. Eid-Il-Fitr' roughly translated as the "holiday to break fast" is the culmination of the lunar month of Ramadan; a month in which Muslims restrain themselves from eating and drinking during the daylight hours in order to commemorate the transposition of the Holy Quran, as well as cleanse themselves spiritually.
I am Muslim, and I attended with my family to celebrate with the rest of the Muslim community in Southern California. I have been fasting the month of Ramadan since I was a child, and I have watched the circumstances of this celebration vacillate according to the political climate that surrounds it. I remember the sullen and cautious vibe's ”combined with increased security measures -- that accompanied the celebration after the attacks of September 11th (the increased security was to protect against possible misguided retaliation attempts), as well as the increasingly earnest and optimistic appeals to spread the true message of our religion in the years that followed.
That said, this article will not be a platform through which I will try to fill the gaps of misinterpretation, or deliver a fiery political message; rather, I thought it was important "in the spirit of this website" ”to deliver some of the news that wasn't sensational enough to print in traditional publications.
While the circumstances under which the Muslim community has celebrated its annual holidays have changed in the post 9/11 United States, a number of things have remained constant. Most notably a cornerstone of the Eid-Il-Fitr prayer has been the attendance of keynote speaker Dr. Hassan Hathout, renowned Egyptian scholar and ambassador of Islam. Hathout, who recently received a humanitarian award from the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission (LACHRC), spoke eloquently about the spirit of Ramadan. Hathout told attendees "[this display of self-restraint and willpower is a reaffirmation of our humanity -- and our ability to show strength of will and devotion to Allah cleanses us" (you'll have to forgive the paraphrase; I hadn't decided to write about this until after the ceremony).
Dr. Hathout has received a lot of attention recently, working hard to spread a correct image of the Islamic community. His efforts did not go unnoticed, and he became the first Muslim American to receive an award from the LACHRC.
While his award was vehemently challenged by a handful of Jewish organizations, Hathout responded affably, saying "the test of people is not when they agree, but when they maintain humanity, civility and positiveness when they disagree" (More information surrounding his award is readily available on the web: www.muslimnews.co.uk/news/news.php?article-11757).
While you'll find plenty of information about the rising tensions between religious denominations (the controversial circumstances surrounding Hathout's award are enough to illustrate this), what you won't find are a couple of events at the Eid-Il-Fitr prayer that caused me to write this article in the first place.
The first of which was the participation of a Christian minister in the service. He along with his church have been observing the month of Ramadan for several years in the spirit of ambassadorship and interfaith cooperation, and were met with a rousing applause from all those in attendance. The humility and sincerity in the minister's gesture warmed my heart, and reaffirmed my faith in religion as vehicle of tolerance rather than prejudice. Secondly, the Sheriff of Los Angeles showed his support, and offered congratulations to the Muslim audience.
I like most in my generation have wrestled with the major theological questions, and like most, I have often found myself distracted by the less than theological actions and feelings that parade under the guise of religion.
Religion in modern society has been so laden with negativity that the word itself now carries a dogmatic -- even negative -- connotation, catalyzing empathy in the youth. Sensing the potential for discontent, Dr. Hathout warned the youth in the audience against the dangers of empathy and materialism, instead imploring his listeners to step forward confidently with faith in God, and their fellow man. Sitting there cross-legged as I watched an Egyptian scholar, a humble minister, and the Sheriff of Los Angeles address a crowd of rejuvenated Muslims at 7:30 in the morning, my confidence, faith, and spirit were revitalized.