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A Christian Arab perspective on the Islamic observance of Ramadan
By Ray Hanania — Christian Arabs in the Middle East are much like Jews in the West. When the official holidays roll around, we are both pretty much pushed off to the side and forced to sing along with everyone else. Jews in America experience this feeling of being left out during the Christian holidays that bring life in the country to a grinding halt, and so are Christian Arabs who sit back and watch as the Arab World turns its focus on Islam.
For Jews in America, it was very difficult to be in a public school and not be told that Jesus was born on Christmas Day, or sing Christmas carols at the school holiday play, although I imagine it is like that for Arabs who live in Israel.
Many American businesses shut down on Christmas and even Good Friday which precedes Easter, while most others stay open but spend their time relaxing as the Christian world around them comes to a grinding halt. Some Jews even put up “Christmas Trees” to help their children avoid the feeling of being left out.
It’s much like that in the Middle East for Arab Christians where Islam is the dominant religion. The Christian presence, which began in the Holy Land centuries before Mohammed took up the call, has been dwindling significantly as a result of growing political turmoil, increasing Islamic activism and subtle anti-Christian pressures forbidden from being discussed openly and never discussed in the Arab World media.
What once was the “Arab World, a secular place where everyone no matter the size of your constituency were equals, is today the Islamic World, celebrating a religion in which, ironically, Arabs are becoming more and more the disappearing minority.
The month long annual observance of Islam’s most important religious observance, Ramadan, began in the United States on Thursday, Sept. 12, when someone in the religious community declared they saw the first light of the crescent moon.
As in Christianity and Judaism, the Islamic calendar is marked by the cycles of the moon, and the observance began about 11 days earlier each year, unlike Christmas which is marked by a specific date, Dec. 25.
During Ramadan, Muslims will abstain from food, drink and other indulgences, and they are inspired to “renew their devotion to God.”
Just as the Christian World shuts down around Jews in the West, the Arab World shuts down around Christians in the Middle East. Although Islam, like Christianity, is based on a principle of tolerance of others, not all Muslims will tolerate Christians who engage in public displays of celebration during this Islamic holiday.
Muslims frown on any public displays or celebrations during their religious observance, by themselves or by others, including Christian Arabs.
I spent Ramadan in Bethlehem in 2004 and learned that Christians are forced to observe Ramadan, too.
The Christians spent the entire time complaining about the secular impact of Ramadan. Christian owned restaurants in this city that was once the birthplace of the Christian religion and Jesus, the Christian religious savior, are forced to close their outdoor patios and temper events such as Christian weddings, parties or large meetings.
If you do stop at a restaurant and insist on eating outside, Muslims who walk by will frown and one even walked up to me to say in Arabic that I was being disrespectful for eating in front of Muslims who were in the midst of a difficult fast.
Christian life comes to a grinding halt throughout the Occupied Territories, and in much of the Arab World where Islam has become the focus not only of the governments that have declared it their official religions, but in the societies, too.
But it’s no different even here in “Christian America,” where the post Sept. 11, 2001 terrorism attack has forced Americans to open their eyes and minds more to learn about the 19 Arab Muslim hijackers who commandeered four commercial jets killing 3,000 innocent American civilians in the nation’s most brazen terrorist act.
This week the Chicago Tribune, the Midwest’s largest newspaper, began a five-day series of full page articles on the meaning of Ramadan. In one, an Arab girl was spotlighted as a Muslim, with scant mention of her Arab heritage.
The word “Arab” has a bad connotation, these days, not only in the mainstream media, but among the Arabs themselves who prefer to refer to themselves now as “Muslims.” Ironically, the majority of Arabs in America are not Muslim, but Christian, though there are far more Muslims, more than 1 billion, in the world.
There is no thought to “Arabs” at all and as an Arab and a Christian, I feel the double whammy of being cast aside not only by Muslims, but also by Americans who continue to remain naïve about the fundamentals of the Middle East and everything related to the “war on terrorism,” frequently mistake me for a Muslim.
One Christian American once told me, “I can’t believe you abandoned your Christian faith to become an Arab.”
So this month, as all Arab American activities come to a halt until the sun sets and the Iftar, breaking of the Ramadan fast is allowed, I will relax, read and quietly enjoy my own faith knowing that in this world, I am a vanishing breed.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning journalist and author. Copyright Arab Writers Group, www.ArabWritersGroup.com.)
This post has already been read 51 times!
Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.
Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.
Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
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