We're not all marking Ramadan

Too many people conflate Arab identity with Islam, forgetting that many of us share a Christian heritage.

September 17, 2007 19:30
3 minute read.
We're not all marking Ramadan

ramadan 88. (photo credit: )


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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 do Christian Arabs, who sit back and watch as the Arab world turns its focus on Islam. Many American businesses shut down on Christmas and even Good Friday, while others stay open but operate at a more relaxed pace. 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 Muhammad took up the call, has been dwindling significantly as a result of growing political turmoil, increasing Islamic activism and subtle anti-Christian pressures forbidden to be discussed openly, and never discussed in the Arab World media. What was once the Arab world - a secular place where all, no matter the size of their 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, September 12, when someone in the religious community declared they saw the first light of the crescent moon. 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, so 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. 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 the town - the birthplace of the Christian 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. One even walked up to me to say in Arabic that I was being disrespectful by eating in front of Muslims who were in the midst of a difficult fast. During Ramadan, Christian life comes to a grinding halt throughout the West Bank and Gaza and in much of the Arab world, where Islam has become the focus not only of the governments that have declared it their official religion, but of the societies, too. But it's no different even here in "Christian America," where post-9/11 Americans have been forced to open their eyes and minds more to learn about the 19 Arab Muslim hijackers who commandeered four commercial jets, killing 3,000 innocent US 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." Interestingly, the majority of Arabs in America are not Muslim, though Muslims are the clear majority in the Arab world. 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 and mistake me for a Muslim. One Christian American 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, the 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. The writer is an award-winning journalist and author based in the US. www.ArabWritersGroup.com

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