When the night of Sept. 1 came and went without a sighting of the crescent moon, Muslims in the United States murmured a prayer and breathed a collective sigh of relief. Dhul Hijjah, the 10th month in the Islamic calendar, had not begun just yet, meaning Eid-al-Adha this year would narrowly miss Sept. 11 by one single, critical day.
Eid-al-Adha is the most significant holiday of the year for 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. It is a tribute to the prophet Abraham’s faith in God when he was instructed to sacrifice his son Ismail — a story hailed as one of the greatest of all time for all three Abrahamic religions.
In every Eid I’ve experienced, preparation has consisted of immense excitement, fresh clothing and the aroma of turmeric seeping into the kitchen air. This year has been different.
2016 has posed challenges, terror and fear at every turn for Muslims across the globe. ISIS has been linked to two dozen terrorist attacks worldwide, claiming more than a thousand Muslims lives. And despite being the greatest population of victims of ISIS, we have watched helplessly as the blame has crushed our shoulders and we are painted with the same brush as our deadliest enemy in history.
For American Muslims, the word “home” continues to lose meaning. One of the loudest political voices in the country has repeatedly called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and his campaign team continues to target prominent Muslim activists and speakers as a danger to Western ideals.
We watch as our friends and neighbors begin to look at us with suspicion and fright in their eyes. We listen as passerby at the airport whisper among each other and summon their children to stand back. We read as our Imams are targeted and shot. With a heavy heart, we understand why, at our weekly services, community leaders call for police officers to stand guard at the entrance to the mosque. Ignoring hate mail and threats has become a matter of life and death.
The proximity of Eid to 9/11 revealed, yet again, the fragility of the American concept of freedom of religion — and I would never say that lightly. Within Madison, students and families were shaken to the point that many decided if Eid were to fall on Sunday, they would stay home from services and events for their own safety. The possibility of violence at a Mosque seemed all too likely in the wake of the Queens shooting and an increasingly intimidating climate for women wearing hijab or other religious apparel.
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Of the nearly 3,000 Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks, about 60 were Muslim. I anticipate anyone ignorant enough to believe we celebrate such horror will insist on playing the game of “well we lost more than you.” But anyone who has experienced a moment of suffering in their life recognizes this game is worthless. It is a day we, as Americans, mourn alongside you.
We are tired of explaining this. Our hearts broke that day and every day since. The loss of our identities as true Americans is a searing pain, but the loss of life is paramount.
So when we are sneered at, accused of celebrating a tragedy which devastated us too — in our homes, our workplaces and our classrooms — it elicits one of the deepest feelings of hopelessness and frustration I have ever known. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s repugnant claims that he stood witness to thousands of Muslims cheering as they watched the towers fall are a slap in the face to every man, woman and child — Muslim or not — who has spent hours on end for the last 15 years replaying final conversations, gripping faded photos, voicemails and tear-smudged scraps of journals.
Yet under his inspiration, millions of Americans continue to perpetuate a culture of intolerance, living comfortably in a “free country” where Muslims cover their identity while uncovering their hair and are forced to choose between practicing their religion with family on their most loved, important holiday of the year, or protecting their children from intimidation and intolerance.
Educate yourself and those around you. Be angry that you are being manipulated and lied to. Be angry that we do not feel free to practice our religion, because once a nation settles for stripping freedoms from anyone, they are comfortable doing the same to everyone. I promise Trump is working much, much harder to scare you by fueling xenophobia than your Muslim neighbors are by hanging Eid lights on Sept. 11.
We can mourn for our losses as Americans while simultaneously celebrating our identities as Muslims. They are both integral pieces of who we are. They are not in tension, but in harmony.
On Sept. 11 we will be celebrating. We will celebrate the strength of thousands of families for holding on to their life after they were struck by the greatest tragedy that can touch a person. For them we will recite “inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un” — surely we belong to God and to Him shall we return.
On Sept. 12 we will celebrate again. Because we live in a country that promised we could.
Yusra Murad ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in psychology and business.