Muslim celebration mixes with mourning

by Gary Soulsman
The News Journal, September 4, 2010

Two events coincide a week from now: The ninth anniversary of 9/11 and the end of Ramadan, a month of spiritual discipline and fasting for Muslims.

With national attention on a New York City mosque and a Florida church’s plan to burn copies of the Quran, Delaware Muslims are nervous about the dovetailing events.

“This is the most tense that things have been,” said Vaqar Sharief, president of the Islamic Society of Delaware. “People still have a lot of suspicions, even hate for Muslims.”

Newark’s Masjid Ibrahim (Mosque of Abraham) has canceled its normal Eid al-Fitr banquet, which would have fallen this year on Sept. 12, fearful that the routine celebration of the end of fasting might be construed as celebrating the horrors of 9/11.

“Anyone who does that is distorting what we are doing in the hope of turning people against Muslims,” Sharief said.

Instead, the Islamic Society is calling Sept. 11 a day of unity and healing, promoting it as a time to remember the victims of the 2001 attacks with sadness and reverence.

Delaware Muslims said they have not faced the kind of anger that accompanied the debate over the Park 51 community center in New York, inaccurately referred to as the “ground zero mosque,” and plans by the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla. to burn the Quran on Sept. 11. There also has been no violence reported against Delaware’s mosques.

But First State Muslims worry that angry talk-show hosts and callers promote a fear of Islam that can stir trouble.

Nationwide, the Council on American Islamic Relations is calling for sensitivity on the topic, and the Islamic Circle of North America has changed the date of the Muslim Family Day at Six Flags amusement parks in response.

Mainstream Muslims said they view the anniversary as an opportunity to speak about radical Islam being a distortion of their faith. They point out that 300 Muslims who worked in the World Trade Center towers or the Pentagon died on Sept. 11.

Teaching the reality

“It’s a chance to do some education,” Sharief said. “We want people to know we have always opposed what was done that day. It’s regrettable that anyone would misuse the teachings of Islam to harm people.”

In the Philadelphia region, the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations has called on media outlets to run a series of public-service videos.

One shows Muslims were among the firefighters who responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center. Another shows that Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders share a version of the golden rule.

“We have more in common than we think,” the video says.

“There are only 6 million Muslims in the United States and we have to reach out to others in the majority,” said Moein Khawaja, executive director of the Philadelphia office of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

“Unfortunately, before Sept. 11, we didn’t host events for the public and tended to isolate ourselves.”

The Islamic Society of Delaware also is calling on members to talk about their faith with friends and invite them to the Masjid Ibrahim on Salem Church Road.

“We are trying to get to know people,” Sharief said. “This is the most important work to be done because it eradicates fear.”

The three-day festival that comes at the end of Ramadan is Eid al-Fitr (Breaking of the Fast) and it’s expected to start next Friday or Saturday, depending on the sighting of the new moon.

It’s a happy time for Muslims and, on the first day of Eid, people gather in the mosque for prayers that will have a special focus on a remembrance of 9/11, Sharief said.

The day is also a bit like Christmas. Adults give presents to children and visit the homes of friends.

And there will be acts of charity, with people giving 2.5 percent of their annual income. This year, there is a special focus on helping the millions of people suffering from the floods in Pakistan, said Dr. Saleem Khan.

He’s been among those urging more donations and he hopes that corporations, churches and Delaware nonprofits will contribute.

This Eid, each mosque family member will give an additional $7. The goal is to raise $50,000 for flood victims.

“We must keep our attention on helping,” Khan said.