Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims, a lovely combination of spiritual introspection, family gatherings, late night prayers, and social justice identification with those for whom going hungry is not a voluntary choice, but a daily reality. And Eid, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, is a joyous time. In many Muslim cultures, this is the time of the year where families will buy new clothes for the children, and the whole town is dressed up in lights, sweets are served, and families visit loved ones, offering embraces and celebrations.
This Ramadan, on the contrast, has felt heavy. Don't get me wrong: there have been hundreds of millions of Muslims fasting around the world, and untold numbers of Muslims have spent nights drawing nearer to their Lord through prayer and recitation of the Qur'an. There have been family gatherings and mosque prayers as before, but at least for Muslims in America a heaviness has also been a part of this Ramadan. The whole month has had the shadow of the Park51 controversy (the misnamed "Ground Zero Mosque") and then more recently the prospects of the savage Qur'an-burning episode down in Gainesville, cast over it.
Eid should be a time of celebration. In terms of ambience, it feels like Christmas. Children and adults look forward to it with great anticipation. And this year, sadly, many Muslims were filled with dread and sadness at the prospect of seeing the Divine Scripture burned, by someone who admittedly doesn't know anything about Islam. One is tempted to say to the Grinch who would steal Eid: "Do You know It's Eid Time" at all? Even if the reports that he has canceled the event last minute are true, he has ruined Ramadan for many.
President Obama and General Patraeus have publicly stated that this stunt will endanger the lives of American soldiers abroad, and one applauds them for their intervention. But my sadness about this episode goes well beyond that, and is multiple-fold:
Why do we insist on running to hateful idiots, and amplifying their voices, instead of highlighting voices of compassion and wisdom?
This ignorant pastor down in Florida leads a congregation of less than 50 people. Gainesville is a place I know and love well, as all three of my siblings graduated from the University of Florida, in Gainesville. I was born 90 miles away, in Jacksonville. I graduated from high school in Northeast Florida. My parents live in Northeast Florida. None of us had ever heard of this little church, with its pastor whose heart only seems to be big enough to make enough room to hate Muslims, gays, lesbians, and others. He is a nobody, with a small following, and an idiotic, xenophobic, crude theology.
In the meantime, we have hundreds of Jewish and Christian leaders who have incorporated the Qur'an into their congregations and their services. We have Islamic, Jewish, and Christian leaders all appearing together in reminding us of a higher calling for us as Americans, of a more perfect union that it is still in our future, for all of us as equal citizens.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center has offered a wise and compassionate call to recognize that the suffering and persecution of various communities are linked.
Amazing groups of Muslims such as Inner-City Muslim Action Network have led "Heal the Hood" campaigns to translate the vision of Ramadan to actual healing for all of our neighbors. We have a broad coalition of Muslim groups coming together to serve the wider society in the spirit of Ramadan under the banner of "Muslim Serve." The main Qur'anic reference of "Muslim Serve" is: "The good deed and the evil deed are never equal. Repel the evil deed with something that is better and lovelier." [Qur'an 41:34] Indeed wise words for times like ours.
Why do we not focus on those voices of compassion, of serenity, of wisdom, instead of giving the hateful xenophobes the platform that neither their vision nor their numbers would otherwise deserve? This mindset of "if it bleeds, it leads" is hurting all of us.
*I also have to confess a profound dissatisfaction with the argument that the reason to avoid this Qur'an burning is because it endangers the lives of American soldiers. Of course it would, and as President Obama has stated it does feed into a ""recruitment bonanza for al Qaeda." And as a Muslim, I hold the Qur'an in high esteem, kissing it and touching it to my forehead before each time that I open it.
Yet I am also reminded that the Presence of the Divine, the Divine spirit, is not only available in scripture, but also in the very heart and souls of humanity. Somewhere we read that "God breathed into humanity something of His own spirit." [The Qur'an]. Somewhere we read that "God created humanity in His own image." [Genesis] Yes, for many Muslims world-wide seeing images of the Qur'an being burned is a reminder that while America may not be at war with Islam, it sure seems to be involved in war after war against Muslims, where the victims at rates of hundreds of thousands are Muslims. And for many Muslims, the discussion of Qur'an burning by itself is incomplete without references to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have lost their lives under the sanctions and then the US occupations. And for many Muslims, the images that we also remember are those of Pakistani homes destroyed by US drones, which killed innocent Pakistanis--whose very being was no less than vessels of the Divine spirits. And those homes, incinerated by American bombs, also contained copies of the Qur'an.
Ramadan is a time of repentance, and re-orientation towards the Divine. One hopes and prays that the Grinch who would steal Eid would actually come to embody the religion of Christ. If Pastor Jones wants to see Muslims as the enemy, one wishes that he would come to live the religion of Christ, and love Muslims as he would love himself. If Christians and Muslims alike have remembered Christ for 2000 years, it is not because he hated and burned, but because he loved. And one hopes and prays that all containers of the Divine--yes including scriptures but also human beings all over this small planet, are cherished and adored, and live in such a way that their dignity and their very lives are never up for assault. May it be that the prospect of any human life, anywhere on this planet, being taken fills us with as much a sense of dread and a call to action as this stunt had. If we get there as member of humanity, we would have embodied the best and loveliest aspects of Ramadan, and indeed come to have repelled evil "with something lovelier."
May the Eid be blessed for all.