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Thanksgiving: An Islamic perspective

November 27, 2008|By SULTAN CHAUDHRY

While not usually considered religious, Thanksgiving is in fact a holiday with roots that can be traced back to a Christian mass from centuries past.

The common historical narrative is that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation in 1621.

However, many historians argue that it perhaps occurred more than 50 years earlier in what is now present-day St. Augustine, Fla. Other reports show evidence that it was held in El Paso, Texas or even Jamestown, Va., prior to the Plymouth feast.

What is nonetheless agreed upon is that in almost all historical accounts the settlers gathered shortly after arriving to a new land, and held mass thanking God for their successful journey. Hence, perhaps more important than its original date is the holiday's original message: Giving thanks for success, in safe passage and harvest.

Giving thanks is conceivably one of the most integral aspects akin to all world religions, with Islam being no exception.

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In the holy scriptures of Islam, the Qur`an, which is written and recited in Arabic, the word "shakur" is used for "thanks" or "thankfulness."

The concept of "shakur" is an essential principle in the Islamic tradition. Muslims are taught to retain the highest form of "shakur" for God, then one's parents followed by all fellow human beings.

In the Qur`an, God addresses his creation saying, "The more you thank Me, the more I give you." (14:7). Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was quoted as having said, "Those who do not thank people, they also do not thank God." (Al-Tirmidhi 1878).

As the Islamic year is based on the lunar calendar, this Thanksgiving falls between two of the most revered events in Islam: Ramadan and Hajj.

Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting, where Muslims worldwide refrain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset for the entire month.

During this time, Muslims reflect on their blessings and focus their energy on feelings of satisfaction and humility rather than desire. The Hajj is the sacred pilgrimage to the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and this year it falls in early December.

Required by all able-bodied Muslims to complete once in a lifetime, the Hajj is a purification journey where Muslims renew their commitment to God and spread His message of peace.

Those unable to make the journey spend this time in worship, praying to God for the safety of those embarking on the pilgrimage.

In modern times, Muslims have experienced a sharpening spotlight, bringing with it a mixed domestic perception and continuous international strife.

Despite this, it has overcome much to become a religion stitched into the American fabric and Muslim nations have recently encountered more and more foreign stability. Whether it is spent in preparation for the Hajj or in prayer, Muslims have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Today, more than four centuries after the first feast, these messages and the original message of Thanksgiving continue to ring true.

Over the years it has evolved to a holiday celebrated by all Americans from all diversities, cultures and religions.

Occurring this year in the wake of major economic blows, raging west coast wild fires, a newly elected government and the rising cost of living, Americans on this Thanksgiving, regardless of religious views, will be praying for safe passage into a new era.

Sultan Chaudhry is a 2001 graduate of Hagerstown's St. Maria Goretti High School and a 2005 graduate of George Washington University with a B.A. in Religious Studies.

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