The first text came from my daughter: “Eid Mubarak.”
It was followed almost immediately by a text from an advisee, a young Jewish girl passionately involved in issues of pluralism and justice, “Happy Eid, Mr. Azzi,” and, minutes later, at dinner on Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue, an old friend, a Palestinian Christian who had just spoken to a small gathering about the Arab Awakening, raised his wine glass, smiled, winked and toasted, “Eid Mubarak.”
A woman next to me, a member of the club where I was a guest, whispered, “Careful. Using cell phones and texting isn’t permitted in the dining room.”
I smiled, and turned off my phone.
“Eid Mubarak” — Blessed Holiday, I whispered to myself, to all those whom I know and love.
Within the congregation where I live, amidst the family and friends, lovers and thinkers, colleagues and companions with whom I journey, I am mindful of how much of my life is dependent upon the manner in which we celebrate each other’s hopes and aspirations as well as holidays and feasts; how much we try to comfort and console each other’s fears and disappointments; how much I believe that we can thrive in the spaces between our communions.
“Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik” — Here I am, O’ God, answering your call.
This year, nearly three million Muslims answered God’s call to travel to Arabia to perform Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, including nearly two million pilgrims from outside Saudi Arabia. From San Francisco and Singapore, from Togo and Tokyo, from Soweto and from Sabra and Shatila, they answered God’s call to share in faith and communion; to embrace the Beloved.
On Thursday, they gathered, shoulder to shoulder, wearing the white robes of the believers: rich, poor, yellow, black, white, princes and paupers, all believers. They gathered on the Plain of Arafat, nine miles from Mecca, at al-Jabal al-Rahma, the Mount of Mercy, from where the prophet Muhammad delivered his last sermon over 1,400 Hegira years ago. Until dusk the faithful stood or sat, in contemplation and confession, praying for enlightenment, mercy and forgiveness.
“Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik.”
On Friday, Muslims around the world began to celebrate the beginning of the three-day holiday, Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice. Eid al-Adha not only celebrates the completion of Hajj but also, as the Feast of the Sacrifice, Muslims honor Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ismail, his first-born son, as an act of submission to God.
God intervened and provided Abraham with a sacrificial ram instead.
On Friday, the Ummah, the global community of Muslims, from small Seacoast mosques to congregations gathered on the parched sands of the Sahel to worshippers gathered in grand mosques in Indonesia, embraced the nearly three million worshippers gathered near Mecca in Saudi Arabia to worship communally to thank God for His Grace, gifts and mercies.
“Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.” Qur’an 49:13 (Asad)
Sadly, Eid celebrations were not without tragedy. The bombing of an Afghan mosque that killed al least 36 worshippers, killings in Syria, and acts of sectarian and political violence marred many celebrations, reminding us that there are still many criminals, many deniers, who are not willing to embrace the message and beauty of the Beloved.
Sadly, also on Thursday, I was reminded of how far many Americans have to go to submit to truth and tolerance of The Other when New Hampshire’s former governor John Sununu speculated, after former Secretary of State, and Republican, Gen. Colin Powell endorsed President Obama for re-election, whether Powell had, “a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama.”
CNN’s Piers Morgan asked what reason that might be?
John Sununu, who not so long ago questioned President Obama’s American bona fides, said, “Well, I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him.”
Perhaps I’m overly offended by Sununu’s comments because there was a time when I thought that as an American of Palestinian origin, whose parents struggled with issues of dispossession and Otherness, Sununu would recognize and be sympathetic to the challenges of the American Dream. However, in Sununu I’ve come to recognize one who would deny truth in order to advance a selfish agenda that actually works against those in whose presence he has been formed — and that saddens me.
“Behold, (when Our messages are conveyed to one who is bent on denying the truth,) he reflects and meditates (as to how to disprove them).” Qur’an 74:18 (Asad)
Denying truth and beauty rather than submitting to their embrace saddens me.
Denying the truth of the Beloved rather than submitting to its embrace saddens me.
Americans, too, are commanded to live in submission; to live in submission to those codes and instruments of community, to the protections of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, that exist to embrace and protect our nation.
Such submission is not degradation and weakness. It is an act of fealty: An act of embracing our highest principles and being freed, by submitting to truth, to act upon them. Submission is not just a call to the religious; it is an acknowledgement that there are truths and rights beyond parochial interests.
The beauty and genius of America, the sacrifices of so many to protect her rights and to protect the weak and poor and to empower the disenfranchised struggling to find places of honor and comfort in this beautiful experiment, is diminished by meanness and petty acts of ignorance.
To embrace truth is to be empowered. To ignore moral, ethical and spiritual truths for political motives denies what makes America exceptional. To fail to submit to truth, as Sununu did, denies the legitimacy of the vision gifted to us by our Founding Fathers.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.