AT THE INTERSECTION | The Holiday season for Muslim Americans can be awkward, but I am still grateful


Thanksgiving has passed, but the holiday season is just beginning. We are getting back this week from a four-day Thanksgiving break, Hannukah started last Thursday, and people are already preparing for Christmas and Kwanzaa. The annual Hollidazzle parade began last Friday, and downtown is decorated with Christmas lights. I’ve also noticed Facebook buzzing with people’s holiday music playlists, and not to mention seasonal caramel brulee lattes and other hot winter drinks are finally back (my two favorite parts of the season)!

As a Muslim American who is not a fan of the snow and cold, I still love the holiday season. Sure, my family doesn’t celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving, but the holidays are always a time to reflect and enjoy the company of those whom you love. It is also a time to be even more grateful for the blessings we have. Not to say I’m not grateful everyday; I am. But there is something in the air this time of year that’s clearly different; everything is festive, people seem nicer, and more compassionate.

On the other hand, the holiday season can be an awkward place for me and other Muslim Americans, who are fully American, and whose identity is informed by our faith. It is true that most Muslim Americans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, because it’s not one of our own religious traditions. The common understand is that celebrating Thanksgiving is a form of innovation, or even forbidden (haram).

While I won’t use this space to assert my own thoughts on the specifics of this issue, I will say I’ve always valued the holiday season as an intentional space to take time off with family, and to take care of myself. As a person of faith, being grateful to my Creator is something I practice everyday. Personally, I was able to take advantage of Thanksgiving this year to catch up on personal readings, do laundry, hang out with my family, and rest. I also ate a lot of pumpkin pie (I love pumpkin)!

Notably, this November also coincided with the Islamic month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic year. It’s not necessarily a Muslim holiday, but Muharram is our second-most sacred month (after Ramadan). It is part of the sunnah (or Prophet Muhammad’s tradition, peace be upon him) to fast on the Day of ‘Ashura, which is the 10th day of Muharram. However, it’s not obligatory to fast. The reason many Muslims do fast however, is because – like in Ramadan – ‘Ashura is a time when God’s mercy and forgiveness are increased. God promises that for those who fasted that day, our sins for the past year are wiped clean; so think of it as another opportunity to ask for God’s forgiveness and to gain more good deeds. Some Muslims also give charity on that day. Another important point about ‘Ashura is that Shi’a Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson.

There are, of course, differences between these traditions — Hannukah, Kwanzaa, ‘Ashura, Thanksgiving, Christmas — in their roots, practice, and purpose. Some of these holidays are more mainstream or secularized than others. Some are more rooted in culture than they are religion, or are influenced by both culture and religion, and also racial identity. And yes, as a person of faith who doesn’t subscribe to the Judeo-Christian way of doing things, this time of year can sometimes be awkward.

Still, I take advantage of these times to remember everything I am blessed with. I think being thankful is an inherent part of my faith tradition just as much as any, and for life, family, and comfort, I am truly grateful.