Cautiously, Muslims around the world celebrate Hajj festival of Eid al-Adha

Crowd of Muslims gathers, sitting, for prayer, in a field

In years before the pandemic, Eid al-Adha prayers were offered in vast community gatherings. Above, Muslims gather for Eid prayer in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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SUNSET MONDAY, JULY 19As we reported in our earlier Hajj story, Hajj 2021 is a tiny sampling of the normally jam-packed experience in the holy sites, due to pandemic restrictions. However, in many parts of the world, families are eager to return to larger gatherings for prayer and shared meals. Various government bodies around the world are issuing warnings and, in some cases, legal restrictions on gatherings. Only news reports this week will tell us how much the pandemic has limited public celebrations.

Whatever unfolds this week in public settings, Muslims of all ages certainly will be remembering Ibrahim (Abraham) and his complete willingness to make a sacrifice during Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice. On the first morning of the Eid festival, Tuesday July 20 in 2021, crowds would fill mosques, sometimes overflowing into sidewalks, parking lots, open fields and parks around the world. Officially, Eid al-Adha begins after the descent of Mount Arafat by the pilgrims on Hajj in Mecca; Muslims across the globe normally gather with family and friends and offer prayers in congregation.

IBRAHIM, ISHMAEL AND THE MIRACLE AT THE ALTAR

Two joyous religious holidays are observed by all Muslims each year: Eid al-Fitr, ending the fasting month of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha.

On the morning of Eid al-Adha, Muslims dress in their finest clothing and offer prayers in congregation. Visits are made, and even non-Muslims are invited to take part in the feasts and festivities.

Jews and Christians are familiar with the Bible story of the patriarch Abraham and a call to sacrifice his son Isaac. According to Muslim tradition, the story focuses on Ibrahim and his son Ishmael. In the Islamic version, when Ibrahim lowers his arm toward his son, the Archangel Gabriel places a ram on the altar instead of Ishmael. In commemoration, Muslims sacrifice an animal on Eid al-Adha, keeping one-third of the share; giving one-third to relatives and neighbors; and donating the remaining one-third to the poor.

sweets platter of cookies

Cookies prepared for Eid al-Adha in Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THE ‘GREATER EID’                

Sometimes called the Greater Eid (the Lesser Eid, Eid ul-Fitr, occurs at the end of Ramadan), Eid al-Adha calls able Muslims to sacrifice a halal animal. By sharing, it is ensured that even the most impoverished person may celebrate Eid. The animal sacrifice—which must meet specific age and quality requirements—may be performed anytime before sunset on the final day of Eid. Families that do not own an animal to slaughter contribute to a charity that will provide meat for the needy.

It is Islamic custom to exchange joyful greetings, present gifts to children and visit with family and friends during this joyous time. The events of Eid al-Adha last between one and four days, although in some regions, festivities carry on even longer.

 

The Hajj 2021: Sharp Limitations for a Second Year in COVID Pandemic

Hajj Kaaba Muslims pilgrims

OVERWHELMING NUMBERS of people usually 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

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SATURDAY, JULY 17: 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 for the second straight year.

Here is the latest reporting from Arab News, the English-language newspaper published from Saudi Arabia, headlined: Saudi authorities unveil operational plan for Hajj season. Central to this year’s plan is a limitation of only 60,000 pilgrims—and only Muslims already residing inside Saudi Arabia.

The United States Centers for Disease Control reports that this news parallels the CDC’s own recommendation that Americans not attempt to travel to Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj. The CDC’s key points include:

  • The Hajj pilgrimage to Islamic holy sites in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is one of the world’s largest mass gatherings. Hajj will take place July 17-July 22, 2021.
  • On June 12, 2021, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah officially announced that only people currently residing in Saudi Arabia will be permitted to make the pilgrimage this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
  • CDC recommends that Americans already in Saudi Arabia not make the pilgrimage. Mass gatherings, such as Hajj, can increase the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 because it can be hard to practice physical distancing.
  • Even fully vaccinated people may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.
  • Medical resources in Saudi Arabia may be limited.

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.

It’s a Perfect Opportunity to Meet ‘Our Muslim Neighbors’

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.

THE ORIGINS OF HAJJ: ABRAHAM, HAGAR & ISHMAEL

Muslim travelers Hajj

Travelers during the season of Hajj. Photo by Muritala Yusuf Olanrewaju, courtesy of Needpix.com

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.

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Obon, Ullambana: Ancient dances, visitations mark traditional Japanese festival

Photograph by Jim Kamole, shared via Wikimedia Commons.

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Obon dance woman crowd

Although many festivities for Obon will be virtual this year, celebrations typically include vibrant colors and dancing for everyone. Photo by –Mark–, courtesy of Flickr

MID-JULY through MID-AUGUST: A festival of ancient dances, intricate costumes and a celebration of Japanese culture commences, as the spirit of Obon circles the globe. Worldwide, this festival spans an entire month: “Shichigatsu Bon,” celebrated in Eastern Japan, begins in mid-July; “Hachigatsu Bon” commences in August; “Kyu Bon,” or “Old Bon,” is observed annually on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar.

2021 update: Due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, many dance festivals will be held virtually this year. The New York Buddhist Church, for example, will offer a range of “celebratory and remembrance demonstrations” online, July 9-1 (read more here). From Hawaii, the Kaua’i Soto Zen bon dance will be virtual again, this year (learn more here); similarly, dancer-members of the Wahiawa Hongwanji are preparing for a 2021 virtual bon dance (watch a slideshow of dance rehearsals, here).

Meanwhile, experts are expressing concern over the lack of vaccinated Japanese residents—according to reports, although Japan’s vaccine coverage has been increasing in recent weeks, the country’s number of vaccinated residents is still the lowest among the world’s most developed nations—as both the Olympics and Obon season approach.

ANCESTORS, BUDDHISM AND HOUSEHOLD ALTARS

Born of Buddhist tradition and the Japanese custom of honoring the spirits of ancestors, Obon is a time for homecomings, visiting family gravesites, dances, storytelling and decorating household altars. Light cotton kimonos, carnival rides and games and festival foods are common at during this season. Obon has been a Japanese tradition for more than 500 years.

STORYTELLING & A DISCIPLE OF BUDDHA

“Obon,” from Sanskrit’s “Ullambana,” suggests great suffering, as the full term translates into “hanging upside down.” Bon-Odori—and the Buddhist legend it stems from—recall a disciple of Buddha who used supernatural abilities to look upon his deceased mother. When the disciple saw that his mother had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering, he asked Buddha how he could help her. The disciple made offerings to Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat and, soon after, saw his mother released from the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. With his new-found insight, the disciple suddenly saw the true nature of his mother—her selflessness, and the sacrifices she had made for him—and with extra joy, he danced what is now the Bon-Odori. (Get a Buddhist perspective here.) A primary purpose of Obon is to ease the suffering of deceased loved ones while expressing joy for the sacrifices loved ones have made.

Lit lanterns on water, nighttime

Obon lanterns. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A taste of Obon: Looking for recipes to celebrate Japanese culture? The Spruce Eats offers a variety of Japanese cuisine suggestions, suitable for Obon. 

The official dance of Obon, though it follows a universal pattern, differs in many details by region. Music and steps typically reflect a region’s history, culture and livelihood. In addition, some regions incorporate items such as fans, small towels or wooden clappers into the dance, while others do not. Nonetheless, everyone is welcome to join in the Bon-Odori dance.

When the festival draws to a close, paper lanterns are illuminated and then floated down rivers, symbolizing the ancestors’ return to the world of the dead (Toro Nagashi).

OBON AROUND THE WORLD

Outside of Japan, the festivities of Obon resonate (though primarily virtually, this year) through Brazil—home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan—as well as in Argentina, Korea, the United States and Canada. In Brazil, street Odori dancing complements the Matsuri dance, and Taiko (drumming) and Shamisen contests are held. Buddhist temples host events throughout the United States, and in Hawaii and California, events are abundant.

Fourth of July: Fireworks are back (mostly) as Americans celebrate Independence Day

Fireworks from a White House balcony July 4, 2000, courtesy of the White House Fourth of July portal, which is linked below in this article.

SUNDAY, JULY 4: Barbecues are firing up and backyard celebrations will be plentiful this Fourth of July, as many public events return across America.

The staff at Parade magazine embarked this year on an exhaustive 50-state tour of top fireworks destinations. After all that research, Parade concludes: “Unfortunately, last year, firework displays were canceled in many places around the country due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Thankfully, restrictions have started to lift in most states as more and more people get vaccinated, and firework extravaganzas are returning to communities for the Fourth of July 2021!”

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

Seems as though editors nationwide had the same idea, because the Forbes magazine staff researched a slightly different approach to holiday recommendations nationwide, headlined: Creative Fourth Of July Suggestions, From Mini-Cruises To The Country’s Oldest Parade

Then, the editors at Delish magazine came up with yet another slant on the story: The 11 best Fourth of July Sales This Year.

One of the big news stories this summer is the return of a White House Fourth of July celebration. Want to know more? The White House website has a multi-media rich portal about the history of Fourth of July observances, dating all the way back to Thomas Jefferson.

Our tip on all of these events is: Plan ahead and check locally for the latest details. While many venues are running full scale—many are not yet back on the calendar. One big disappointment in the Chicago area, this year, is that Navy Pier has decided to cancel its July 4 fireworks display for a second straight year. Even though public health officials are opening up big venues to the public, the Navy Pier staff announced that they could not scramble fast enough to schedule their signature pull-out-all-the-stops pyrotechnic display this summer. They’re telling Chicago fireworks fans to come back in 2022.

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

A COMMITTEE AND A DECLARATION DRAFT

 

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.

SALUTE TO AMERICA: FROM WASHINGTON, D.C.

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.

Fourth of July treat

Photo courtesy of Piqsels

JULY 4 RECIPES, PARTY TIPS, DIY & MOVIES

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.

Crowds gathered on the White House South Lawn for the Fourth of July in 1980, another historic photo courtesy of the White House July 4 portal. Click on this photo to visit that portal.

 

 

Solstice and Midsummer: Welcome summer with outdoor celebrations

Girls Sweden Midsummer

A celebration of Midsummer. Photo courtesy of The Lodown

SUNDAY, JUNE 20 and THURSDAY, JUNE 24: Picnics on the beach, wreaths of wildflowers, bonfires and Midsummer parties—Scandinavian-style—abound: Across the Northern Hemisphere, June 20 brings the summer solstice; on June 24, countries across the globe celebrate Midsummer.

For people around the world, Midsummer has been equated with greenery, fertility rituals and medicinal herbs for millennia. In Scandinavian countries, the longest day is one of the most beloved holidays of the year. A Scandinavian Midsummer is complete with an entire day’s worth of outdoor activities for citizens young and old: extravagant smorgasbord lunches, outdoor games for the entire community, dancing and more.

Flower crowns: This ancient accessory for Midsummer fetes is as easy as gathering a few favorite flowers and basic craft materials. For a tutorial on how to create a chic one, check out Lauren Conrad.com.

The Midsummer menu is as dear to Scandinavians as the Christmas goose or ham is to celebrants of the winter holiday, and fresh strawberries often take center stage in cakes, shortcakes or eaten straight out of the bowl. Other traditional foods include the season’s first potatoes, made with dill and butter; a roast; herring or other types of fish and seafood; hard-boiled eggs and summer cabbage. For recipes, visit Bon Appetit.

MIDSUMMER AROUND THE WORLD

In Finland, the summer holiday unofficially starts with Midsummer, and so many flock to countryside cottages that city streets can seem eerily empty. Saunas, bonfires, barbecues and fishing are enjoyed by hundreds.

Did you know? June 24 is also the Christian Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

Two northeastern towns in Brazil have been in lengthy competition for the title of “Biggest Saint John Festival in the World,” and throughout the South American country, dishes made with corn and sweet potatoes are favored.

In Austria, a spectacular procession of ships makes its way down the Danube River, while fireworks light up the night sky above castle ruins. In Latvia, homes, livestock and even cars are decorated with leaves, tree branches, flowers and other greenery.

The largest American celebrations of Midsummer take place in New York City, Seattle, Tucson and San Francisco. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, members of the large Finnish population celebrate Juhannus with beachfront bonfires and other outdoor activities.

LITHA: A WICCAN AND PAGAN SOLSTICE EVENT

Many Wiccans and Pagans observe Litha, a holiday of gratitude for light and life. At Litha, adherents note the full abundance of nature at the point of mid-summer. Traditionally, fresh fruits and vegetables are the main course at shared meals, and bonfires are lit to pay homage to the full strength of the sun. In centuries past, torchlight processions were common; at Stonehenge, the heelstone marks the midsummer sunrise as viewed from the center of the stone circle.

Father’s Day: Celebrate Dad, Papa, Grandpa—and more

Father's Day man and kid

Photo courtesy of StockSnap.io

SUNDAY, JUNE 20: Cook dinner on the grill, spend some time with 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.

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. Each year, Americans spend about $25 billion on Mother’s Day, Fortune reports, but Father’s Day spending now is up to $16 billion.

Did you know? Celebrations similar to Father’s Day have been in existence around the globe for hundreds of years. In traditionally Catholic countries, fathers are popularly recognized on the Feast of St. Joseph.

SONORA SMART DODD: A FATHER’S DAY IN AMERICA

icon adult and kid

Photo by David, courtesy of Noun Project

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.

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.

CELEBRATING FATHER’S DAY: FOOD, FUN & MORE

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.

Spending time with Dad may be the best gift of all, and if you’re stumped for activity ideas, Reader’s Digest and Parents.com dole out suggestions on what to do.

Gift ideas: Not sure what to get Dad this year? NBC has a list of affordable gift ideas, while CNN has a list of practical gift suggestions. Yahoo! offers ideas for dads who “say they don’t want anything,” and Parade has a little something different: 100 Father’s Day messages, suggested for cards, text messages or as social media tags.

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

Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Sahib: Sikhs recall guru of justice, faith

Sikh man portrait

A Sikh man. Photo by theharpreetbatish, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 16: The tragic death of a Sikh spiritual leader, centuries ago, forever shaped Sikh spiritual culture: On this day, Sikhs recall how Guru Arjan Dev died under orders of the Emperor Jahangir in a courageous defense of justice.

Did you know? Arjan Dev Sahib was the first of two gurus martyred in the Sikh faith. Guru Arjan Dev compiled the first official edition of the Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth. 

Guru Arjan Dev’s message was distinctive, because he had taught followers the value of preparing their own defenses, including weaponry skills, in order to defend themselves and the oppressed. This instruction came after generations of martyrs had shown the dangers of violent oppression Sikhs were likely to continue to face. However, during relentless days of his own torture, Guru Arjan Dev instructed his followers not to intercede; it was the will of the Almighty, he insisted, and it was his responsibility to provide inspiration for all those to come who would undergo tests of strength for their faith.

During the 17th century, Emperor Jahangir rose to power and attempted to turn India into an Islamic state. Sikhs, Hindus and others all faced oppression. Allegations were made against Guru Arjan Dev, and soon, the Sikh leader was arrested. Guru Arjan Dev underwent days of torture with boiling water, fire-hot sand and starvation. Finally, the Guru asked for a cooling bath in the Ravi River. The Emperor agreed, imagining that the cold water might be yet another form of torture; however, the Guru slowly disappeared into the water—never to be seen again.

Guru Arjan Dev, during his life, also compiled the writings of the four past gurus into one sacred book. This book would become the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book).

Note: Most years, Sikhs travel into Pakistan to worship in the annual, nine-day “Jore Mela” for the martyrdom anniversary. This year, however, continued pandemic concern has caused a cancellation of the event.