Hajj 2020: Dramatic Downsizing Is an Opportunity to Learn More about Our Muslim Neighbors

Hajj Kaaba Muslims pilgrims

OVERWHELMING NUMBERS of people make the annual Hajj a real-life experience of the global diversity of Islam. Photo of an earlier Hajj by Hassan Morowa, courtesy of Pexels


TUESDAY, JULY 28: Millions of Muslims who planned to make the pilgrimage to Mecca this year will be staying home as Saudi Arabia, the keeper of the holy places, has announced a COVID-limited Hajj this year that could involve only about a thousand pilgrims who live in the region. In addition, no one over age 65 will be allowed to participate to avoid infecting the most vulnerable men and women. (Al-Jazeera has more details.)

Among the pillars of Islam, the world’s nearly 2 billion Muslims are expected to visit Mecca and fulfill the Hajj rituals that reenact the actions of the Prophet Muhammad in his “farewell pilgrimage,” in 632 AD. Arriving via every mode of transportation available and from countries that circle the globe, this annual Islamic pilgrimage is widely considered the largest annual gathering in the world.

Click this cover to jump back to early 2019 for our story about the launch of “Our Muslim Neighbors,” explaining the importance of meeting the Muslim families who are such important parts of our communities.

In the U.S.—Pew Research estimates there are 3.45 million Muslims, making up 1.1 percent of the American population.

However, most Americans have never actually met our millions of Muslim neighbors.

To help celebrate the Hajj this year—it’s time to change that. It’s time to reach out and talk with our Muslim co-workers and neighbors. If we do reach out, we usually discover new friends with similar values—and the entire community is enriched by our new friendships.

That is why we are urging all of our readers to turn back to this January 2019 cover story in which we suggest a way to take that next step—through the pages of Victor Begg’s new memoir.

You will meet Victor, his wife Shahina and their entire family in this engaging book, titled Our Muslim Neighbors—Achieving the American Dream, an Immigrant’s MemoirThe book includes Victor’s description of his own Hajj experiences, which is a great way for non-Muslims to learn about this centuries-old tradition that is limited to Muslims.

Readers also will recognize their own core American values as they enjoy reading about Victor’s courageous attempts to live out those values, sometimes in the midst of tragedy.

“This is a true blue American story—my story of how I came to this country and built a successful business and a life for my family that contributed to our community in so many ways,” Victor says. “Along the way, I realized that most Americans don’t know any Muslims and that heightened bigotry arises because people don’t know that our families are just like their families. We share so many community and spiritual values—and we would discover that if we simply reached out—if we simply got to know each other.”

That’s also what Bill Tammeus, one of the most respected religion writers in the U.S., concluded after reading Victor’s book. Here’s a sample of what Bill wrote:

This is a highly personal story, but Begg’s experience and thinking can encourage all Americans to get to know their Muslim neighbors—to say nothing of neighbors of all other (and no) religious traditions. When people are religiously illiterate, it can lead to fear, which can lead to hate, which can lead to violence. We’ve been there before. This book is a helpful road map in a better direction.



Islamic tradition tells that in approximately 2000 BCE, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife, Hagar, and his son, Ishmael, in the desert of Mecca while he traveled to Canaan. After Abraham left, food and water quickly ran out; Hagar ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times. Exhausted, Hagar laid Ishmael on the sand and begged God for help. Miraculously, a well sprang up at the baby’s feet, and that well—the Zamzam Well—continues to provide ample water to Hajj pilgrims today. Later, according to Muslim tradition, Abraham was commanded to build the Kaaba, so that people could perform pilgrimage there. It is believed that the Archangel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from heaven to be attached to the Kaaba, and today, the Black Stone marks the beginning and ending point of each circle a pilgrim makes as he circulates the Kaaba during Hajj.

Jahiliyyah: During a time known as jahiliyyah in pre-Islamic Arabia, the Kaaba had become surrounded by pagan idols. To cleanse the Kaaba, the Prophet Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca in what is now regarded as the first Hajj. The pagan idols were destroyed, and Muhammad rededicated the Kaaba to God. At this point, Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam, and adherents have been making the journey ever since.

Independence Day: Americans celebrate with backyard parties & fireworks

FIREWORKS have not been permitted at Mount Rushmore for more than a decade.


SATURDAY, JULY 4: Barbecues are firing up and backyard celebrations will be plentiful this Fourth of July, as many events turn private from public. While most patriotic parades and festivals are cancelled this year, that doesn’t mean that Americans aren’t holding festivities: In fact, residential fireworks sales are “sky-high” this year, as the number of at-home celebrations soars. Since some 2020 pandemic restrictions remain and many public fireworks displays are cancelled, most families are opting for a smaller-scale display instead.

Shooting off your own fireworks this year? Get safety tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

What’s happening at Mount Rushmore?

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which is sometimes called “The Shrine of Democracy,” celebrates Independence Day on both July 3 and 4. For 2020, programming and plans for both days are still being developed, but there will be a fireworks display the evening of July 3. The Memorial will reopen to the general public on July 4. For more details, visit the website.

The National Park Service has not held a fireworks show in more than a decade due to fire concerns—but President Trump pushed the idea this year, because of his long-standing love of the historic site and his claim that he hopes, one day, to see his own face carved on the mountainside. Meanwhile, Native American groups strongly oppose the event—and public safety experts are warning about the potential of COVID-spread and wildfires. Associated Press reports further.

As The Washington Post reports: “President Trump is planning a massive fireworks display at Mount Rushmore on July 3, despite a decade-long ban on pyrotechnics at the iconic spot because of concerns about public health, environmental and safety risks. Trump has wanted to stage fireworks at the national memorial in South Dakota’s Black Hills since 2018.”

JULY 2 and JULY 4

With the fledgling battles of the Revolutionary War in April 1775, few colonists considered complete independence from Great Britain. Within a year, however, hostilities toward Great Britain were building and the desire for independence was growing, too. Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense,” fueled the unifying aspiration for independence. Though the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain took place on July 2, 1776, it was two days later—July 4—when the Second Continental Congress gave its approval.

July 4th colonial

The Fourth of July in Philadelphia, 1819. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



The year was 1776, and the weather was stifling hot as a brand-new nation was being formed. In June of that year, the Continental Congress appointed a five-person committee to draft a formal statement that would vindicate the break with Great Britain: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson, considered the most articulate writer in the group, crafted the original draft. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress officially declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain; a total of 86 changes were made to the draft before its final adoption on July 4, by the Second Continental Congress.

One year following, in 1777, Philadelphia marked the Fourth of July with an official dinner, toasts, 13-gun salutes, music, parades, prayers and speeches. As the new nation faced challenges, however, celebrations fell out of favor during ensuing decades. It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that printed copies of the Declaration of Independence again were widely circulated, and festivities marked America’s Independence Day.

Fast fact: Congress declared July 4 a national holiday in 1870.


A salute of one gun for each U.S. states is fired on July 4 at noon by any capable military base, and in the evening, A Capitol Fourth—a free concert broadcast live by PBS, NPR and the American Forces Network—takes place on the Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C. The White House has announced that President Trump plans to host an Independence Day celebration again this year, despite the coronavirus pandemic, with military demonstrations, fireworks and a speech. (Read more in the Washington Post.)

Fourth of July treat

Photo courtesy of Piqsels


Get out those red, white and blue decorations and recipes!

From the perfect grilled steak to a fresh-fruit patriotic cake, find recipes from Martha Stewart, AllRecipes, Food Network, Food & Wine, Rachael Ray and Real Simple.

For party and decor tips, check out HGTV’s easy entertaining ideas, Americana style suggestions and backyard party tips. Reader’s Digest offers 21 fun party games fit for any celebration of the Fourth.

Kids can craft decorations or their own apparel with help from Parents.com and Disney.com.

Interested in a lineup of patriotic movies? Forbes and Boston.com offer a top-10 list of movies, including “Red Dawn,” “Johnny Tremain,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “1776.”

Father’s Day: Bring joy to Dad, Grandpa and more

Father's Day

Photo courtesy of Pikist

SUNDAY, JUNE 21: Make dinner on the grill, put together a gift for Dad and take a minute to say “Thanks:” It’s Father’s Day! Across the United States, more than 70 million fathers qualify for recognition on this special day.

2020 UPDATE: While many states are slowly reopening retail stores and other public places, social distancing is still highly recommended and enforced. Looking for ideas to celebrate? Check out 10 ways to observe Father’s Day in quarantine, here. Searching for ways to mark a virtual Father’s Day? Find several ways, in this article from Woman’s Day. Forbes states that “masks are the new ties”—at least, according to this article. Finally, from Health.com, there are 15 best gifts that Dad can use during quarantine.


The official holiday has been in effect for nearly half a century in the United States, although similar celebrations have been in existence around the globe for much longer. In traditionally Catholic countries, fathers are popularly recognized on the Feast of St. Joseph.

Did you know? Fortune magazine reports that Americans’ focus on Father’s Day has been growing in popularity over the last decade, at least as analysts judge the amount American families spend on Father’s Day gifts. That figure has grown 70 percent, or $6.6 billion, over the last decade, according to Katherine Cullen, senior director of Consumer and Industry Insights at the National Retail Federation.

The American Father’s Day began in Spokane, Washington, in 1910, with the daughter of a widow. When Sonora Smart Dodd heard a Mother’s Day sermon in church, she approached her pastor, believing that fathers like hers—a Civil War veteran and single father who had raised six children—deserved recognition, too.

Hand hold

Photo courtesy of Pickpik

Following the initial few years, Father’s Day was all but lost until Dodd returned to Spokane, once again promoting her holiday. Despite support by trade groups and the Father’s Day Council, Father’s Day was rejected by both the general public and Congress until 1966. President Richard Nixon signed the holiday into law in 1972.


Stumped on how to celebrate Dad today? Look no further! We’ve rounded up plenty of ideas to please dads of any age:

Cooking dinner for Dad? Whether you’re taking food to the grill or to the oven, get inspired with recipes from Food Network, Martha Stewart and AllRecipes.

From the Silver Screen: Take to the air conditioning with popcorn and a dad-centered flick. Our favorite list is from Screen Rant, which recognizes fathers from Darth Vader to Bryan Mills in “Taken.”

From the Kids: Young children can craft gifts, cards and more with ideas from here.

Juneteenth: Celebrations, changes and concerns nationwide

Juneteenth celebration in Austin, Texas, on June 19, 1900.



FRI, JUNE 19: Most summers, Juneteenth is defined by prayer services, gospel concerts and barbecues nationwide to celebrate the oldest known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States: Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day.


In 2020, be sure to check schedules early for local celebrations. Many towns have cancelled this year’s events. Many are hosting Juneteenth events on dates other than June 19. Some communities are proposing virtual observances this year.

On June 5, the Chicago Defender published this report on ways to mark Juneteenth, including ideas that don’t involve public gatherings.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram looked back at the event’s long history in Texas.


President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, followed by the end of the Civil War IN 1865—but white Texans remained resistant to freeing slaves. Due to the minimal number of Union troops present in Texas, slavery continued in the state until June 18, 1865—the day General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops marched into Galveston and took possession of the state. The following day, General Granger read General Order No. 3 before a crowd including elated former slaves. Formal celebrations for “Juneteenth” began almost immediately.

Did you know? The term “Juneteenth,” grammatically a portmanteau of the word “June” and the suffix of “Nineteenth,” was coined in 1903.

Just one year following General Granger’s reading of General Order No. 3, freed former slaves had gathered enough money to purchase land for Juneteenth gatherings and celebrations. Church grounds were also popular for gatherings. Emancipation Park in Houston and Austin are examples of remaining properties purchased by former slaves. (Learn more history from Juneteenth.com.) In its early years, Juneteenth was a time for family members—some who had fled to the North and others who had traveled to other states—to reunite with relatives who stayed behind in the South. Prayer services have long played a major part in the celebrations.

Hosting a barbecue or other Juneteenth celebration? Find recipe ideas at Multi Cultural Cooking Network and NPR.

Pentecost: Christians celebrate the birthday of their church

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.”
Acts 2

Church altar draped in red cloth with dove and flames on it, candles on top of cloth

An altar decorated for Pentecost. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, MAY 31: The ancient feast of Pentecost is marked with red drapery and vestments, symbols of the Holy Spirit, processions and holy sacraments. Though Pentecost originates from the Greek translation of the Jewish springtime festival now celebrated as Shauvot, it has long been observed by Christians as the birthday of their church.

In Christian tradition, Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, women and other followers of Jesus, giving them the ability to speak in many languages for the purpose of spreading the Word of God. In this manner, some Christians regard Pentecost as the “birthday of the Church.”

ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS—This year, Pentecost is observed by the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church on June 7, because their Pascha (Easter) was celebrated after the Western Christian Easter.

Wearing Red This Year?

The color red largely defines Pentecost in the West, symbolizing joy and the fire of the Holy Spirit. Clergy often wear red vestments, varying by Christian denomination, and people in the congregation often are encouraged to wear red clothing.

In the 2020 pandemic, many congregations around the world are meeting virtually. Even Pope Francis will not allow crowds to join him inside St. Peter’s, this year, for the Pentecost liturgy. So, many clergy and lay leaders have encouraged Christians to post social media photos wearing red to spread awareness of the holiday.


According to the Book of Acts and Christian tradition: Approximately 120 followers of Christ were gathered on the morning that the Pentecost took place, in the Upper Room. A roar of wind came into the room, and tongues of fire descended upon those in the room. With the gift of the tongues of fire, those gathered believed evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit; they began speaking many different languages. (Learn more from Catholic Culture.)

When the group left the Upper Room, a crowd had gathered. While some accused the followers of Christ of sputtering drunken babble, Peter corrected them and declared that an ancient prophesy had been fulfilled. When the crowds asked what they could do, Peter told the people to repent and be baptized—which thousands did.

You can read the key passage from the second chapter of the Book of Acts yourself, in this New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

Rose petals strewn on floor

Rose petals fill a Roman church on Pentecost. Photo by Stefano Costantini, courtesy of Flickr


Pentecost services in the Western Christian Church often involve red flowers, vestments and banners, all representing the Holy Spirit and tongues of fire. Trumpets and brass ensembles may depict the sound of the “mighty wind” in a musical manner.

Churches in some parts of the world have Holy Ghost holes in the ceiling, a design feature popular in the Middle Ages. These openings often are decorated with flowers and, on Pentecost, may feature rose petals or a dove descending through the hole. In the UK, a Holy Ghost hole still exists at Canterbury Cathedral.

In Italy, rose petals scattered from above represent the fiery tongues; in parts of England, Whit Fairs and Morris dancing are commonplace on and around Whitsunday, or Pentecost.


Memorial Day: America honors fallen heroes with virtual, at-home events

Memorial Day honor graves

Photo by Presidio of Monterey, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, MAY 25: It’s Memorial Day, and the unofficial start of summer in America began, less than two centuries ago, as a solemn observance for the war that had consumed more lives than any other U.S. conflict. While memorial services still abound (as shown in the photo above), the national holiday today also means barbecues, beaches, parades and fireworks—although this year, many traditional festivities may look different than they do most years. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, families are being encouraged to barbecue at home, watch parades virtually (check out this one, from Farmington Hills, Michigan) and—in places where beaches are reopening—practice social distancing and safety protocols in outdoor public areas.

TUNE IN: PBS will be hosting a National Memorial Day Concert on Sunday, May 24 at 8 p.m. ET to honor veterans as well as the men and women who are fighting against COVID-19.

TRAVEL: Memorial Day weekend is typically a popular travel period in the United States, but this year—in spite of record-low gas prices—travel numbers will be down significantly. Still, those who are planning to travel can check out tips from CNN, this news channel out of New York, and the Los Angeles Times.


Black-and-white Unknowns Monument, photo

A group of women at the Civil War Unknowns Monument in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, circa 1915. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Memorial Day began as an annual, grassroots practice of sprucing up the gravesites of the countless Americans who died during the Civil War. That’s why, for many years, the observance was called Decoration Day, describing the flowers and colorful flags that seemed to sprout across cemeteries each spring.

For much of the 20th Century, however, the painful early roots of this observance were forgotten as proud civic boosters across the country tried to claim their own unique slices of this history. Then, Yale historian David W. Blight researched and corrected the record, finally honoring the fact that the courageous pioneers in observing this holiday were former slaves in the South who dared to decorate Yankee graves.

In his history, Race and ReunionBlight writes: “Decoration Day, and the many ways in which it is observed, shaped Civil War memory as much as any other cultural ritual.”

Blight continued to research race and American memory in that era and was honored with the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in history for his in-depth biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.


The famed sociologist of American religion, Robert Bellah, also shaped the evolution of Memorial Day’s meaning in a landmark article he published in a 1967 issue of Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He called his long article “Civil Religion in America,” taking the centuries-old concept of “civil religion” and kicked off decades of fresh research into how our civil religion defines our American culture. You can read Bellah’s entire original article online.

A few lines from Bellah’s article about Memorial Day …
Until the Civil War, the American civil religion focused above all on the event of the Revolution, which was seen as the final act of the Exodus from the old lands across the waters. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were the sacred scriptures and Washington the divinely appointed Moses who led his people out of the hands of tyranny.

Then—The Civil War raised the deepest questions of national meaning. The man who not only formulated but in his own person embodied its meaning for Americans was Abraham Lincoln. For him the issue was not in the first instance slavery but “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” … With the Civil War, a new theme of death, sacrifice, and rebirth enters the new civil religion. It is symbolized in the life and death of Lincoln. Nowhere is it stated more vividly than in the Gettysburg Address, itself part of the Lincolnian “New Testament” among the civil scriptures.

Laylat al-Qadr and Eid al-Fitr: Muslims mark holiest night, end of Ramadan

Muslim man prayer

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNSET TUESDAY, MAY 19 and SUNSET SATURDAY, MAY 23: The holiest night of the Islamic year arrives for Muslims worldwide with the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr). Known by many names—Night of Value, Night of Destiny, Night of Measure—Muslims note the anniversary of the night the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad via the angel Gabriel. (Note: Muhammad did not reveal precisely when the Night of Power occurred, though the 27th day of Ramadan is a traditionally held date; however, as many of the odd-numbered nights in the last 10 days of Ramadan as possible are still observed.)

It is believed that on this sacred night, verses of the Quran were relayed to Muhammad in the year 610 CE, and angels descended to earth for the event. If a devoted Muslim prays in earnest for forgiveness of sins on Laylat al-Qadr and reads the Quran, it’s believed that the night is “better than 1,000 months.” Sins are forgiven and blessings are manifold.

An Eid Unlike Any Other

Cupcakes decorated fancy for Eid

Cupcakes for Eid. Photo by The Baking Tray, courtesy of Flickr

“Even the oldest people living today cannot recall a Ramadan like this,” Algerian journalist Larbi Megari told us this week via Skype from his home. He followed up by email with this account of the startling reality of an Eid without crowds.

“Officially, we are hearing there will be no public Eid prayers in Algeria this week—and in most of the Arab countries. Authorities are asking people to hold Eid prayers at home, which is difficult. Eid prayers are supposed to include a Khutbah, and not everyone is capable of delivering such a message at home.”

Though rare, some countries—such as Iran and Pakistan—have allowed the resumption of communal prayers; however, strict social distancing measures will be enforced.


In The New York Times, Amelia Nierenberg reported on Breaking the Ramadan Fast in Quarantine. She explained: “For many Muslim families, Ramadan is one of the most social months of the year. … It is a month of meals eating with intention, ending in a joyous celebration: Eid al-Fitr, which begins the evening of May 23.”

Interested in 16 tips for celebrating at home? This article suggests ways to make Eid in quarantine special.

Participate in a 13-day virtual celebration of Eid: Check out this site, hosted by Asia Society’s Texas location, for craft how-to videos, cooking videos, read-alongs and more, part of the free online programming.

Still, in spite of virtual celebrations and “gatherings,” Muslims the world over are experiencing often painful interruptions in lifelong traditions. As Eid is a very social holiday—and a major component of the observance is time in a mosque—Muslims are gearing up for a very different Eid this year.

Empty mosque Eid white pillars

Empty mosques will be common this Eid al-Fitr. Photo courtesy of Pxfuel

From Jerusalem, Adam Rasgon reported: A Ramadan Unlike Any Since the Middle Ages. In The Times, he wrote: “The last time Muslim worshipers were kept out of the Aqsa Mosque compound throughout the entire month of Ramadan was when crusaders controlled Jerusalem in the Middle Ages.”

Reporting from Algeria, Larbi explains, “Authorities have announced that there will be no visits to hospitals during Eid day. We have the habit in Algeria of visiting hospitals where there are sick people who are far away from their families, especially here in the capital where the biggest hospitals are receiving sick people from other towns and cities.

“This year, there will be a total curfew during the two-day Eid. Authorities have forbidden family visits that usually take place during these two days. The religious-affairs ministry even issued a fatwa forbidding family visits during Eid.

“One of our favorite traditions is sharing sweets and cakes for Eid—but we won’t be making them this year for the simple reason that no one will visit us at home to give them these sweets. So many things are different this year. Usually, people wear new clothes for the Eid—so important that new clothes are a symbol of Eid. But, this year, shops are closed. The message widely shared on social media this year is: Instead of wearing new clothes, put on your best clothes.

“Finally, we cannot remember our loved ones with cemetery visits, which is an important habit in Algeria during Eid. Authorities do not want public gatherings—even in our cemeteries.”

Dates Muslims bowl

Photo courtesy of PxHere


That’s the way to greet Muslim friends, if you care to follow the traditional custom of wishing friends, neighbors and co-workers the best in this festive time.

Note: Spellings vary, and you may see the holiday spelled Eid ul-Fitr as well. 

Before sunrise on Eid al-Fitr, Muslims pray, bathe and put on their best clothing. A small breakfast—usually including dates—is consumed, and Zakat (charitable giving) has been completed.

While adherents typically would spend ample time enjoying the company of family and friends and attending carnivals and fireworks displays, social distancing measures will prevent most of these types of activities in 2020.


With nearly one-quarter of the world’s population observing the Islamic faith, it is significant to note that, unlike most Muslim holidays—which may or may not be observed by all Muslims each year—the two Eid holidays (Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr) are always commemorated universally.