Each year on Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Ramadan month of fasting, 8,000 to 10,000 Muslims stream into the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring in shifts for special Eid services, followed by food, singing, dancing and henna decorating to celebrate one of Islam’s most festive holidays.
The religious services are on for this year. But not the rest.
“No celebrations, no festivities,” said Rashid Makhdoom, who is on the center’s board of directors. By uncomfortable coincidence, the holiday falls this year around Sept. 11 – for the first time since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Eid, like other Muslim events, is calculated on a lunar calendar and occurs slightly earlier each year. This week, depending on when in August one started fasting, it is either on the 9th, 10th, or 11th.
“Particularly, 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,” Makhdoom said. “That’s the mood of the Muslims, generally very subdued.”
U.S. mosques have loudly condemned terrorism, and many services this year will commemorate the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, including, they point out, Muslims. But many say they are rethinking more festive activities in the wake of what has been a tense summer for Muslims in the United States.
A proposal to build an Islamic center near the site of the World Trade Center in New York provoked a swell of anti-Muslim sentiment; protesters have targeted mosques in other states; a Muslim cabdriver was stabbed; and a Florida church has said it will burn Korans on Sept. 11.
In light of this, Muslim leaders say they fear that Eid celebrations could be misconstrued, mistakenly or deliberately.
“There are those who are promoting the idea that Muslims will be celebrating on 9/11 because that fits their hate-filled agenda,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. “If we hold a community bazaar or a family fun day, it’ll be seized on by these people.”
To forestall misunderstandings, the Council of Muslim Organizations in greater Washington has called on its 147 member groups to avoid holding Eid celebrations on Sept. 11, and Muslim leaders are encouraging congregants to explain to non-Muslim friends and neighbors that the convergence this year is mere coincidence. A few groups are also beefing up security for this year’s event.
But some Muslims disagree on whether to adjust Eid activities in light of Sept. 11.
“There are two strains of thought,” Hooper said. “One is that Islam should not be blamed for 9/11 and that Muslims should not have to alter their religious practices, and that if you do, that shows some kind of guilt; and the other is, ‘Hey, let’s show a little sensitivity.’ ”
The convergence even feels uncomfortable for some Muslims. “On one hand, 9/11 is a very difficult day for us, and on the other hand, Eid is like our Christmas – it’s a day for celebration,” said Zeba Iqbal, executive director of the Council on the Advancement of Muslim Professionals, one of several groups promoting a Muslim day of service on Sept. 11. “We’re all very bittersweet and somewhat conflicted as to the best way to celebrate and commemorate at the same time.”
A sampling of Islamic groups in the Washington area, home to an estimated 250,000 Muslims, showed that most had no celebrations planned on Sept. 11, and many had moved or toned down their usual activities.
The All Dulles Area Muslim Society center in Sterling, one of the nation’s largest mosques, typically holds Eid events for 15,000 to 20,000 people in five locations, including synagogues, churches, hotels and sports facilities, with everything from prayer to children’s moon bounces; it will celebrate Eid on the 10th and hold its ninth annual interfaith peace gathering on the 11th.
“We have been very firm in recommending that people avoid festivities on Sept. 11,” said ADAMS board member Rizwan Jaka, adding, “If Eid was on Saturday, we would not have done the moon bounce.”
Anwer Hasan, founder and board member of the Howard County Muslim Council who attends Dar Al-Taqwa mosque in Ellicott City, said community leaders had alerted local elected officials to the holiday.
“We need to bring awareness to the American community here, so if anyone brings it to their attention, they know what it is,” Hasan said.
At the same time, Muslim leaders want to alert their own members. “We fear that. . . maybe some immigrant communities that might be newer to this country might not attach the same level of importance to September 11th,” Iqbal said, adding that pictures of smiling Muslims after a Sept. 10 Eid service could seem jarring in a newspaper published Sept. 11.
Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church will have pony rides, a moon bounce and free ice cream – but on Sept. 12, said Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, a member of the Council of Muslim Organizations’ executive committee. He added that major Islamic centers in the area are following the recommendation.
But not all. “There are people who have raised issues with me, saying, ‘How did you come up with this? I don’t know if this sends the right signal,’ ” Abdul-Malik said.
The issue may be less of a problem for non-immigrant Muslim communities, said Tariq Najee-ullah, resident imam of Masjid Muhammad, one of the District’s oldest African American mosques, which plans to have music performances, poetry, basketball and football on Sept. 10.
“We have a very strong history here,” Najee-ullah said, adding that many non-Muslim relatives of congregants will also attend. “For 75 years, we’ve been a pillar of the community. I don’t think the community will get the wrong impression of who we are.”