As we approach the end of the month of Ramadan, Muslims look forward to a three-day celebration called Eid Al-Fitr. When asked about this event, American Muslims often say: “It’s like our Christmas.”
Like Christmas, Eid is a time to celebrate the faith, to be charitable, to visit friends and family, and to exchange gifts. But, it’s also different from Christmas. Mainly, it’s noisier.
Early in the morning on the first day of Eid, the call to prayer echoes from minarets across Middle Eastern cities, and Muslims gather to pray in vast numbers. To accommodate the worshiping masses, prayer rugs are laid down outside of mosques and into the streets, creating ungodly traffic conditions.
And therein is the difference between the Christian and Muslim holidays. Where Christmas is often celebrated in a living room with family and friends sitting around the decorated tree, Eid festivities seem to spill into the streets.
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Muslim immigrants in America recall excited children wearing colorful, crisp new Eid clothes, and riding bicycles decorated with tissue paper flowers in the spokes. They remember kids clutching their gift money and running to a Ferris wheel or other traveling carnival ride that rolls into their neighborhood. Imagine rickety county fair rides without the inconvenience of seatbelts or other safety devices.
A sleigh racing through the snow is an image not common to Eid. However, I have seen flatbed carts, pulled by mules and overloaded with young Muslims singing and clapping in celebration.
And what would a celebration be without food? After all, we are celebrating the end of a month of fasting.
Christmas cookies have their Eid counterpart. A “mamoul” is a cookie stuffed with dates, walnuts or pistachios, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. It’s hard to imagine Eid without trays of this delightful pastry traveling from one house party to the next.
Like Christmas, Eid also represents a time of giving.
A charitable contribution called “zakat,” which is mandated in Islam, takes place during this holiday season. To Muslims, this is not an expression of generosity; rather, it is a bill that comes due.
“Zakat” is a defined percentage of one’s wealth that is distributed to the poor. Even among the underprivileged, offerings of sweet bread and dates are made in lieu of money. Islam, like Christianity, frowns upon the tight-fisted Scrooge.
Christmas and Eid have much in common, as do the religions they represent. And with so many similarities, Muslims are often asked: “So, how do Islam and Christianity differ?”
The answer is often surprising.
“The angels said: ‘Mary. God gives you news; a word from him. You will be given a son. His name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary. He will be held in honor, in this world and in the hereafter.’ ”
While this passage sounds as if was taken from the Bible, it is actually from the Quran (3:45).
So, what are the main differences between the religions?
1. Islam says Adam and Eve were forgiven by God, and that the original sin did not pass to their descendants.
2. Islam says that God did not sacrifice Jesus on the cross to atone for the sins of man.
3. Islam says there is only one God. Jesus is a prophet of God, like Abraham before him and Mohammed as the last.
That’s basically it. There are other lesser differences, and the intention is not to minimize them. Once we recognize these differences, we can transcend them. And then, Christians and Muslims can share in each other’s celebrations.
Dean Hosni, an underwriting professional in the insurance industry, is a member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.