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

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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.

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THE ORIGINS OF HAJJ: ABRAHAM, HAGAR & ISHMAEL

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.

Purim: Jewish festival of Esther’s victory includes cookies, masquerade

Two plates of triangular-shaped, jelly-filled pastries

Hamantaschen, or “Haman’s pockets,” are a Purim treat. Photo by xeno4ka, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNSET MONDAY, MARCH 9: Eat! Drink! Be merry! The story of Purim is found in the pages of the book of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures of the Bible.

Today, with the start of Purim, fruit-filled cookies are served, outrageous costumes are donned, plenty of wine is consumed and comical skits entertain jovial audiences. In the synagogue, readings from the book of Esther evoke hissing, booing and stomping, as Jews “blot out” the name of the villainous Haman. Interestingly, the name of G_d is not mentioned in the book of Esther, and many Jews interpret this as indication that G_d works in ways that are not always apparent. On Purim, disguises and costumes serve as symbolism of G_d “hidden” behind the scenes.

ESTHER, MORDECAI AND AHASUERUS: THE STORY

When the beautiful young Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, she hid her Jewish identity. Esther’s guardian, Mordecai, held a key position in the kingdom but was hated by the king’s advisor for refusing to bow down to him. In a rage, the king’s advisor—Haman—plotted to kill Mordecai and all of the Jews.

The turning point was the king’s love of Esther, who was chosen to be his queen. Though Haman had already convinced King Ahasuerus to kill the Jews in Persia, Esther fasted for three days, approached the king and revealed her own Jewish identity, pleading with the king to save the Jewish population. The king later hanged Haman and his 10 sons on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai. The Jewish people in Persia were saved from the plot of Haman.

Popular Jewish author and columnist Debra Darvick, who penned This Jewish Life with real-life stories about men, women and children observing the festivals and milestones that mark the Jewish calendar, describes the way families approach the holiday of Purim this way:

“On the 14th of the month of Adar in the Jewish calendar, hilarity reigns as the holiday of Purim is celebrated. One is commanded to drink enough liquor so that it becomes impossible to distinguish between the phrases ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mor- dechai.’ In Hebrew these words become a tongue twister, so it doesn’t take much.”

OBLIGATIONS AND HAMENTASCHEN

The carnivals and masquerades of Purim are accompanied by the four primary obligations of the day: to listen to a public reading of the book of Esther in the evening and the morning; to send food gifts to friends; to give charity to the poor; and to partake in a festive meal.

The signature treat for this holiday is Hamantaschen: Haman’s pockets. FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis tells the story of baking these delicious triangular treats in her family—and provides her own recipe for these cookies.

EXTRA RECIPES: An array of Purim recipes can be found at AllRecipes. For a crunchy take on Haman’s pockets, try these—made of Rice Krispies. Thirsty? Try making your own apricot-infused bourbon for Purim.

National Day of Unplugging: Enjoy ‘Sadie Sees Trouble’ with someone you love

Click this logo to visit the official website for National Day of Unplugging.

SUNDOWN MARCH 6-7—Two national organizations are chiming in on a message shared by ReadTheSpirit and educators nationwide: We should help children to reduce their current levels of screen time! In fact, all of us should consider how much time we spend focused on screens—and devote ourselves to more human contact.

In May, we will remind you about National Screen Free Week.

Click the cover to visit the Amazon page.

But this week, we inviting you to get ready by unplugging for a single day.

Reducing “screen time” is the message of the book Sadie Sees Trouble by Linda Jarkey and Julie Jarkey-Kozlowski. You can read more about this innovative project that invites children to begin reading and creating their own illustrations with substances found in most kitchens. The sisters who created this remarkable book are both veteran educators. Linda says, “It’s an attractive option: Give a child a tablet or a smart phone and many children will sit quietly while you’re free to do other things around the home. But, very quickly that technology can replace interaction with your children.”

“We increasingly miss out on the important moments of our lives as we pass the hours with our noses buried in our devices,” say the folks behind the National Day of Unplugging campaign. Visit their website to learn more about this annual effort.

The other effort, national Screen-Free Week has its own website where you can register local events and network with other folks planning to take part in this effort. This week is sponsored by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhoodwhich describes its mission as “supporting parents’ efforts to raise healthy families by limiting commercial access to children and ending the exploitive practice of child-targeted marketing.”

Kwanzaa: Celebrate African-American values with ‘first fruits’

African-Americans dance in a circle around room, drumming, informal, with colorful hanging papers around room

A Kwanzaa celebration at the University of California, Berkeley. Photo by Reginald James, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 26: Learn the seven principles and gather in the name of unity—for the seven-day commemoration of Kwanzaa.

Each year, Kwanzaa founder Dr. Maulana Karenga publishes an annual message. Now in his late 70s, these messages are heart-felt appeals to rediscovering and reclaiming African values that can contribute to the wellbeing of the whole world.

In his 2017 message, he stressed the universal themes of care for each other and our planet. Karenga wrote, in part:

An African American and pan-African holiday, Kwanzaa is—in both conception and practice—a world-encompassing celebration. It is world-encompassing in that it is practiced by millions of Africans throughout the global African community. And it is world-encompassing in its roots in ancient African agricultural celebrations and their concern with the earth and their conception of humans interrelated with the world and their responsibility to it.

In his 2018 message, he wrote:

We chose the Nguzo Saba (the 7 Principles) to serve as an overarching framework for the way we lived our lives, did our work and waged the struggle for liberation and other good in the world. These principles focus first on family, community and culture, but they also have an expanded meaning and message for the work we do and the struggle we wage in society and the world. Thus, we must constantly think deeply about them, discuss them, share them and make them a vital and greatly valued part of our daily lives.

The first principle of Umoja (Unity) calls for a cultivated sense of relatedness and mutual respect, of togetherness in the work and struggle for a shared and inclusive good in our families, communities, society and the world, and for a sense of oneness and responsibility for each other’s good and the well-being of the world.

His 2019 message will appear just before Kwanzaa begins in the festival’s official website.

ORIGINS OF THE FESTIVAL

To mark the half-century anniversary of the holiday, in 2016, Smithsonian Magazine described Kwanzaa as “one of the most lasting innovations of United States black nationalism of the 1960s.” The Chicago Defender described the arrival of this festival in Chicago half a century ago.

Green background, Kwanzaa candleabra in front with statues, dark unity cup and bowl of fruit

Elements of Kwanzaa. Photo by Joseph LaValley, courtesy of Flickr

Created by Karenga in the mid-1960s as the first completely African-American holiday, Kwanzaa celebrations honor African heritage and culture. Though originally associated with the black nationalist movement, as Karenga today points out that Kwanzaa emphasizes connecting Africans of the Diaspora with their native roots and highlighting the universal themes in those ancient cultures that can build a healthier global community.

Specifically, Kwanzaa’s “seven principles” call to mind what Karenga refers to as a “communitarian African philosophy.”

Did you know? “Kwanzaa” is from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, or “first fruits of the harvest.”

KWANZAA’S SEVEN PRINCIPLES

Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to a principle, resulting in a total of seven Kwanzaa principles. The principles, though they may vary slightly in spellings, consist of: Umoja (unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective work and responsibility); Ujamaa (cooperative economics); Nia (purpose); Kumbaa (creativity); and Imani (faith).

Kwanzaa urges participants to maintain unity in family and race, to define themselves, to build community and profit together, and to always do what is possible at the moment. (Wikipedia has details.) Symbols and decorations aid in the unity of Kwanzaa observances, such as a decorative mat (mkeka), corn, a seven-candle holder (kinara) and a communal or unity cup. Often, an African feast—known as Karamu—is held on the sixth day of Kwanzaa, and gifts (zawadi) are exchanged on the seventh day.

KWANZAA CUSTOMS

Did you know? The proper greeting for Kwanzaa is “Joyous Kwanzaa.”

Plate of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, cooked collard and other fried foods in dimly lit room

Soul food is common at the Kwanzaa table. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Household celebrations for Kwanzaa often include children, as do public Kwanzaa ceremonies.

Teachers and parents: You’ll find a couple of kid-oriented resources from Scholastic.com. First, there’s a lesson plan on discussing Kwanzaa’s principles and, then, there’s a second plan that also features a mancala game.

Community gatherings may include music, drumming, dancing, libations and the reading of the principles. Artistic performances, storytelling and ritual candle-lighting are also common.

In its nearly half-a-century of observance, Kwanzaa has spread in popularity throughout the United States and into Canada.

Hungry for a taste of Kwanzaa? Find recipes for traditional dishes, from sweet potatoes and collard greens to black-eyed peas, at Food Network and GenuisKitchen.com.

 

Raksha Bandhan: Celebrating Bonds between Brothers and Sisters

Women at marketplace looking at bracelets

Women shop for Raksha Bandhan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, AUGUST 15: Across India and in Hindu communities worldwide, the sacred bonds between brothers and sisters are honored on Raksha Bandhan. Over many centuries, the rakhi (from Sanskrit, “the tie or knot of affection”) has evolved from simple, handspun threads into bangles adorned in jewels, crystals, cartoon characters and even political figures.

Two sisters renew bonds with their brother on Raksha Bandhan

Two sisters celebrate the holiday with their brother in a photo this family submitted to the Wikimedia Commons 2019 campaign, called “Wiki Loves Love.” Photo credit: Aasthap-dsc.

On a broader scale, Raksha Bandhan is a time for harmonious existence and a bond between leaders—teachers, political figures, civil authorities—and those they serve.

RAKSHA BANDHAN: COLORS AND RITUALS

Weeks before the culmination of Raksha Bandhan, Indian shops offer a bright palette of threads for women making their own rakhi; shops also are stocked with colorful premade rakhi. Men also shop market stands, searching for a token of love for their sisterly Raksha Bandhan companion.

The morning of the festival, brothers and sisters greet one another in, if possible, the presence of other family members. The sister ties a rakhi on her brother’s wrist, reciting prayers for his well-being and applying a colorful tilak mark to his forehead. The brother responds with thanks and a renewal of his sibling commitment, and the two indulge in sweet foods. The brother presents the sister with a gift, and everyone present rejoices in the gladness of family—often with a festive meal.

Some of the most popular Indian treats enjoyed on Raksha Bandhan may be surprisingly sweet to Westerners unaccustomed to Indian cuisine. A prime example is gulab jamun. Think of a donut hole soaked in syrup! India-based NDTV’s Food channel already has published tips for home-made gulab Jamun. Want other culinary options? NDTV’s Food channel also published these 11 suggestions for other delightful holiday dishes. The non-alcoholic Mango Basil Colada sounds especially refreshing!

Interested in making your own rakhi? Find 15 kid- and adult-friendly ideas at the blog Artsy Craftsy Mom, which features simple to complex DIY rakhi instructions.

A National Holiday

Raksha Bandhan is so popular that nearly every year government officials across India announce some kind of new service or public improvement related to the holiday. This year, one widely reported news story is a policy—in some regions—to offer free bus transportation for 24 hours so women can easily reach their brothers.

Each year, there also are efforts to encourage fitness on the holiday. One example, from The Times of Indiasuggests healthier choices for family banquets—and even suggests that a rakhi could be a fitness band.

Many families and organizations enjoy trying to take their festivities to extremes—competing for slots in the record books. For 2019, India-based Prokerala magazine takes a look at some of the records—and attempts at records.

Finally—and only in India—one of the country’s shelters for cows, sacred animals in Hinduism, has sparked headlines across the country for its new line of cow dung rakhis. No kidding! It’s one of a number of fundraisers to help support the shelter.

Black History Month in February 2019

Frederick Douglass composite of images from Wikimedia Commons.

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FEBRUARY, all month long—We have a rich array of resources to recommend for your reflections on Black History Month this year. Let’s start with a question:

Why is Black History Month in February?

Carter G. Woodson

The “father of black history” was historian and author Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) who co-founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) in 1915 as well as The Journal of Negro History in 1916.

A decade later, in 1926, Woodson capitalized on two milestones that were widely observed each year among African American families: Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 and Frederick Douglass’ birthday on February 14. He wisely scheduled his new Negro History Week to appeal naturally to those communities already looking to the past in early February.

However, Woodson had a far larger vision for his observance: He wanted to encourage organized programs to teach African American history in public schools. At first, he could find only a handful of early adopters in schools in North Carolina, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C.

Woodson was a prolific author and argued that establishing a well-known body of history was crucial to the survival of black culture and the potential for African-American progress. “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” he wrote. In particular, Woodson admired Jewish leaders who had kept their culture, tradition and communities alive despite many historic threats to their survival.

He started with two birthdays that already were popular in African-American communities and, around those two dates, he built a national movement of educators that expanded into a month-long focus.

One-Stop Listing of National Events

The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum all are joining in tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity. Here’s a one-stop website for all of those events and programs.

A Hero’s Journey

We’ve got an excellent way to mark this annual observance. Get a copy of the new book The Black Knight and enjoy the dramatic story of Col. Clifford Worthy’s courage in agreeing to become one of the first black cadets at West Point in the 1940s after President Truman signed the order integrating the U.S. Army.

Cliff’s story is a national treasure for many reasons. Here’s one: The U.S. Military Academy traces its roots back to 1801, but the West Point Association of Graduates—its influential alumni organization—was organized in 1869 so this new year is the group’s sesquicentennial. Special events are planned all year long to celebrate the Long Gray Line. That starts with the new Winter 2019 issue of West Point magazine. If you click on that link, you can “flip through” the pages of that special issue—but we urge you to jump right to page 54, where the West Point Authors Bookshelf features Clifford Worthy’s new memoir, The Black Knight: An African-American Family’s Journey from West Point-A Life of Duty, Honor and Country. You also can learn much more about that new book on Amazon.

Confront Racism
with accurate information

100 Questions and Answers about African Americans

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

The Michigan State University School of Journalism has published a very helpful guidebook, 100 Questions and Answers About African Americans.

Why does racism continue to throw up so many tragic barriers in the U.S.? Part of the problem could be that we just don’t know each other very well. The Public Religion Research Institute asked people about their closest networks. About 75 percent of White Americans said all their closest confidants were White. About 65 percent of Black respondents said all their confidants were African American. Among Hispanics, the number was 46 percent.

In the Michigan State University School of Journalism, students are trying to take make cross-cultural conversations less awkward. Students start this process by asking people what questions they get about themselves, or wish others knew the answers to. Then, the guides answer those common questions. The students hope that these guides answer baseline questions people are curious about, but might be reluctant to ask because they don’t want to embarrass themselves or offend others.

100 Questions and Answers About African Americans answers potentially awkward questions:

• Should I say Black or African American?
• Why is slavery still an issue for some people?
• Why is it that White people can’t say the n-word, but some Black people do?
• What is the Black National Anthem?
• Do Black people get sunburns?

The guide answers some common misperceptions:
• Is it true there are more Black men in prison than in college?
• Are African Americans the chief beneficiaries of affirmative action?
• Does most federal food assistance go to African Americans?
• Did Abraham Lincoln end slavery?

And the guide explains achievement in rising educational and health levels, high voter turnout and accomplishments in science, technology and the arts.

Celebrate American Labor Day by Remembering the Sacred Nature of Labor

Pope John Paul II visiting Poland in 1983 during the years when his messages inspired the Polish people to rise up. (Photo by Vatican photographer Arturo Mari)

“Created in God’s image, we were given the mandate to transform the earth. By their work people share in God’s creating activity….Awareness that our work is a sharing in God’s work ought to permeate even the most ordinary daily activities. By our labor we are unfolding the Creator’s work and contributing to the realization of God’s plan on earth.”
Pope John Paul II in his landmark encyclical Laborem Exercens in 1981

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 3—Amid parades, parties, shopping and travel this Labor Day weekend, consider giving this holiday the merit it really deserves: Take a look at the history and relevance of labor in the lives of American workers. In addition, spend some time considering how our religious traditions have emphasized the sacred nature of human work since the Genesis story of Adam and Eve.

Labor Day honors a value that has been a part of religious reflection for thousands of years. Psalm 90 in the ancient Hebrew scriptures ends with a prayer that God will “prosper the work of our hands.” In Islam, the Quran talks at length about the nature of our work and the morality of conducting ourselves in the public square. For two centuries, popes have written extensively about the sacred nature of labor. Long before John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens fueled the workers’ movements in Poland, Pope Leo XIII laid the groundwork for modern Christian teaching about labor in Rerum novarum, which called on international efforts to alleviate “the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class.”

AMERICAN LABOR DAY:
RELIGIOUS ROOTS

Black-and-white photo of people on streets in early 20th century, leisurely gatherings and walking in a built-up downtown

A Labour Day parade in Toronto, Canada, 1900. Labour Day was made an official holiday by Canadian Prime Minister John Thompson in July of 1894; less than one month later, Labor Day became a federal holiday in the United States. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Why do we refer to “American Labor Day” in this column? Because American leaders in the late 1800s feared that a May holiday, which was favored by labor activists, would encourage memories of the tragic Haymarket conflict in Chicago. What began as a peaceful labor demonstration in Chicago’s Haymarket Square wound up in headlines around the world after a bomb went off, police opened fire and many were killed or wounded. The tragedy continued through subsequent court cases. That May event in Haymarket Square well over a century ago is remembered, to this day, in May 1 labor holidays around the world.

Instead of a May holiday, then, American leaders preferred to remove “our” holiday from that tragedy by four months in our civic calendar. Instead, American holiday planners encouraged street parades and public displays of the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations in each community—including cheerful festivities and recreation for workers and their families. (Wikipedia has details.)

In addition, the Sunday preceding Labor Day is known as “Labor Sunday”—dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

In the late 1800s, leaders in the Knights of Labor worked diligently to spread awareness of this holiday. Terence Vincent Powderly, leader of the Knights’ outreach, wrote on the influence of religion, “Trade-unionists, members of guilds, leagues and other organizations of workingmen embraced Christianity and proclaimed its doctrines as being especially advantageous to the welfare of the toiling poor.” Powderly’s preamble to the union’s Declaration of Principles quoted Scripture and described the dire challenges of the working class in terms similar to the writings of Leo XIII. That was no accident. Powderly was a devout Catholic, visited the Vatican and for a time had the active support of American Catholic bishops.

GREAT BOOKS ON LABOR

Want some recommendations of great books on labor? Our ReadTheSpirit short list of recommended reading echoes other online lists of widely praised books on these issues. We urge readers to pick from the following (the links take you to Amazon):

Click the logo to visit the IWJ website.

Want Religious Resources for Prayer and Discussion?

For more than two decades, the Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) network has been a gathering place for interfaith reflections on the nature of labor—and the needs of workers. The IWJ website offers many free resources under the banner: Labor in/on the Pulpit, Minbar, Bimah. In its resource page, the IWJ also quotes the current Pope Francis:

“Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression, or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that creates huge inequalities.”

NEED FRESH RECIPES?

Grill kabobs Labor DayLooking for the perfect recipe for a picnic or Labor Day gathering?

  • For the home cook, AllRecipes has a great selection of easy-to-follow recipes.
  • To wow guests or friends and family, try making a dish from Food Network.
  • Trying to eat healthier? Try a tantalizing Labor Day recipe from Eating Well.