Holidays are habit-forming. After spending a leisurely July 4th, I wanted to continue in my up-beat mood, so I looked for a holiday to celebrate on July 5th. To my surprise, I found one that is being enjoyed today by 20% of the people living on the earth. It’s the Islamic holiday of Eid al- Fitr, which marks the end of the fast of Ramadan.* After thirty days of fasting between sunrise and sunset, Eid al-Fitr is a time when fasting is replaced by feasting. This transition is so important that Muslims are forbidden to fast on this special day. The very first thing you should eat is a sweet dessert. Overeating is compulsory. Self-indulgence is required. I can live with that.
I’m far from an expert on Islam, but I believe this combination of holidays, fasting and feasting, is designed to remind people that they’re part of the rhythm of nature and need to adapt to the ups and downs, rainfall and drought, birth and death, that are built into the natural world. And all along, through the fasting and the feasting, they are reminded, by readings and prayers, that all of this happens under the Creator’s supervision. Submission to him is the secret to finding meaning and satisfaction in life.
In a sense, our Fourth of July has a similar message about the rhythms of life. For many of us, our day revolves around eating — massive amounts of unhealthy things cooked over a barbecue, followed by the richest pies and cakes imaginable. And the capstone event is a flamboyant display of fireworks. The brighter, the louder, the longer, the better.
But the reason we can feast is that some of our ancestors had to go through some serious fasting during the decade-long struggle culminating in the Revolutionary War. Our fireworks displays are reflections and echoes of the “rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air” in 1776. As citizens of a free Nation, we are reminding ourselves not to take our blessings for granted. We are saying that we should be ready to endure real rockets and bombs again to defend the values our Nation, at its best, represents. And in several brutal wars during the 240 years since, our foreparents have repeatedly proven their readiness.
For those of us who are believers, our experience of the rhythm built into our Nation’s history is best understood when we acknowledge God as the Lord over all events in his creation, including our lives. We don’t want to do this in a cheap, superficial, God-and-Country way, as if America is more special to him than other people in his world. We should seek to enlarge our vision so that our concern becomes as broad as his. We should do all we can to see that every person in the world is able to live in a free and just society.
I found another theme in Islam’s Eid al-Fidre celebration that gave me insight and encouragement. Throughout the fast of Ramadan, there is an emphasis on making charitable contributions to the poor. But this is especially important on the feast day of Eid al-Fitr. A Muslim is challenged to go meet the needs of some poor people who are hungry or homeless before his morning prayers. That is, before you fully indulge in your feast, help break the (involuntary) fast of those who have less than you.
What would our American foreign policy be like if our Fourth-of-July celebrative spirit reached out to embrace all the poorer, less free, more oppressed people of the world? Just thinking.
Meanwhile, I’m thankful for one more day when I can justify continued holiday feasting, before I return to fasting, the monotonous disciplines of everyday life. “Eid Mubarak!” “Happy Feast Day!” That’s the greeting the people are sharing today at the mosque a block away from ABC. Maybe I can crash the party.
— Pastore George Van Alstine
* Based on visibility of the new moon, this year’s Eid al-Fitr started in the Middle East at sunset of July 5 and will start in North America at sunset of July 6