Posts Tagged ‘ Christmas ’

Christmas for Christians, Muslims and Jews

By Petula Dvorak for The Washington Post

National_Menorah_Lighting_0f582

The tree has decorations made of olive wood from Palestine, Christmas balls of glass, snowflakes and Hanukkah ornaments.

Grandma looks on at the tree-trimming party, a hijab the color of snow covering her hair. Mom, a teacher at a private Islamic school in Reston, snaps photos. Carols play in the background. Christmas cookies are baking in the oven.

This tableau in a Virginia living room — a scene of family, love, acceptance, celebration and generosity — is what this season should be all about but often isn’t.

You’ve gotta admit: Christmas is pretty unavoidable in this country.

Gas stations sparkle with tinsel, tiny dogs wear Christmas sweaters on their walks, federal buildings are closed, Costco stops selling pies the size of truck tires in honor of the day.

And if it’s not in your religion to celebrate it, the options are limited. You can hunker down for a month or two and try to avoid it or take part in the new American tradition of Christmas warring. You can join lawsuits over mangers on government property; post cheeky, atheist billboards that haters will deface; and support only stores that require employees to say “Happy holidays.”

The other side of the wars — the “reason for the season” folks — aren’t much more palatable.

Or you can take a more universal approach to the season.

“I present Christmas not so much as a religious celebration,” said Nadiya El-Khatib, 33, of Fairfax County. The aforementioned Christmas tree trimming took place in her aunt’s house, where their multi-faith family of Christians, Muslims and Jews find a universal theme this time of year.

“In Islam, we are taught to maintain strong ties with your family, and this includes coming together on Christmas,” she said.

El-Khatib’s mother, a former Irish-Catholic woman named Mary Catherine, converted to Islam when El-Khatib was 5 years old. El-Khatib was raised Muslim, but she always celebrated Christmas with her maternal family and continues to do so with her children.

Many of the Muslim families Nadeem Ahmed grew up with just gave up and started celebrating the holiday, too.

“You get enveloped in the culture of Christmastime. Some Muslim families would put up the tree, exchange gifts,” Ahmed, 36, a Richmond psychologist, told me between caroling and gift giving this week. “We never did all that.”

But he sang carols as a boy in school, went to Christmas parties and took in the spirit of togetherness. It is unavoidable. And it didn’t really bother him as a kid, he said.

Then he married a woman who was raised Presbyterian.

Now he prays in church, goes there on Christmas Eve and worries about getting the right gifts for his in-laws.

“From my perspective, how I was raised as a Muslim, this very welcoming church shares some universal value,” he said of the church they attend in Richmond. “I can feel very spiritual there, look at my own moral character.”

In other words, though he stays true to the rituals of his Muslim faith, Ahmed can find the universal, humanitarian message in Christian Christmas and embrace it.

“The rituals aren’t as important as what they’re trying to symbolize and being able to explore those things at a church, or at a mosque, it’s all about trying to be a better person,” he said.

Doesn’t hurt on the marriage front, either.

Listening to Ahmed, I was inspired and a little saddened by the relentless war of words that continues to scar the season.

Last week, I got an angry letter from a reader who was miffed that we used the words “holiday song” to describe a Christmas carol being sung by children in a photo.

Turns out, “holiday song” took up fewer character spaces in the tight caption space, which is why a copy editor wrote that. But to this reader, it was a sign of political correctness and fear.

It was someone picking a fight.

And that’s exactly what the spirit of the season is not about.

Since Christians — and I grew up one of them — seem to demand that everyone in the country observe this day as sacred (try escaping Christmas madness at a museum or anyplace else — you can’t), the meaning of the day must extend to people of all faiths, creeds and persuasions.

The Muslim families I talked to did it beautifully.

Whether you say “Happy holidays,” “Merry Christmas” or “Season’s greetings,” the sentiment is what is important here, not the words. And that sentiment is what we humans need these days. This day.

The Illiteracy of Hate

A News and Opinion Special Report by Manzer Munir for Paksitanis for Peace

Alleged Taliban Member pic courtsey of Boston Globe

The Taliban are not just simply a bunch of illiterate thugs and bullies for they too often prove to be even worse than animals and barbarians.

Nowhere else in the world has a country experienced a more tragic and callous attack as the one on Christmas day, the birth day of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, than the one Pakistan experienced. In an attack described by President Obama as an “affront on humanity”, the cowards attacked helpless women, children and men while they queued up in food and aid distribution site such as the WFP depot, people who mind you are already suffering from the ongoing war, once in a lifetime floods, and the poverty and radicalism of a generation of desperate, hopeless and increasingly uneducated young men brainwashed by the Taliban and other radical Muslim extremists.

I am still disturbed by the disdain for basic human life that this new attack proves about this radical and extreme enemy. I imagine another one of their brain washed ‘walking zombies’, this time purportedly a woman suicide bomber, a first, even for Pakistan, killed in excess of 43 people in Bajur Pakistan at a World Food Program rations and aid storage and distribution center.

The Pakistani authorities and several domestic and foreign NGO’s who provide food aid at various centers in the area are temporarily closing these centers in order to have increased security. This means that aid distribution will come to a crawl and up to several hundred thousand people will now have to suffer at the hands of the attacker and their backers, the Taliban who have claimed responsibility. The authorities will have to ensure the safety of aid organizations and their personnel for both Pakistani and non Pakistanis relief workers involved in getting food, water and medicine to many people who are either suffering from the war or from the floods.

This catastrophe, although not of near Biblical proportions, does present both a security and humanitarian problem to both the government of Pakistan as well the suffering citizens in the northwest areas of the country where; Taliban fighters take sanctuary from the war in Afghanistan to regroup and return to the fight in warmer weather after the winter months as we have seen in years past. In fact, the reach of the Taliban in Pakistan is now not only reputed to be in the headquartered areas such as in Quetta Pakistan among the restive Baluchi population, now they are so often found to be in major cities like Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and many points in between as they use their religious cover to endear themselves to certain impressionable, weakened or illiterate individuals that are so commonly found in throughout the country. 

Here are the some of the depressing facts. Pakistan, a nation approaching 180 million people at current estimates, perhaps only boasts to having about 60-65% of the male population at a literate level and at best, the females to be only at 40-45% of the total female population. Sadly, what this means is that 4 out of 10 Pakistani males are completely illiterate while up to as many as 6 out of 10 women are not able to read or write. Poverty breeds extremism since there is no support from any government programs or hope for any solution.

Time and time again throughout history and not just of Pakistan’s, we can see that the role of the church, synagogue or mosque in building the community is deeper than that of any government initiatives or other measures. The poverty for these young men along with the lack of jobs like for those individuals who are either very poorly paid construction site workers, household labor or servants, or beggars and sewer workers, a job sadly almost seems to have been reserved for Pakistan’s Christian community members as many can attest in Pakistan of their unfortunate and depressing state. One does not need to remind the reader of the plight of Asia Bibi (also Aasia and Ayesa), the Christian Pakistani woman who is still awaiting her fate in Pakistani courts after more than a year and a half since first being accused of a BS blasphemy charge and being in jail ever since. 

The medieval mentality of these radical extremists is not something that needs to be described as the evidence is here in this latest attack . Certainly anyone alive in any part of the world outside Pakistan and Afghanistan with eyes, TV, radio or newspaper within their reach can see plenty of near daily reminders of the carnage that many natives of these lands see, and to what they have painfully become accustomed.

 The Pakistani and Afghani Talibans have by all the various reports in newspapers and media sources over the last several years have pointed out to the fact that these groups all have too often similar goals. Not only that, these groups all share the same characteristics. The anti-Americanism, the pro-Wahaabi or Orthodox version of Islam, the need for justice for the ‘suffering of the Palestinian people’ , and the anti-colonial and often times anti western sentiment amongst these groups. The radicalization of certain Muslim groups be they Hamas and Hezbollah in the Mideast or Lashkar e taiba, or any other militant outfit operating in this part of the world as mentioned in this quote a few days before he passed, the late Richard Holbrooke of the US State department said that there are a range of militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and that “an expert could add another 30.” His exact words are in quotations. 

The radical Muslim groups who take prey of the weaker, cannot think for themselves because they are scions of those abjectly illiterate segments of the society who are only educated in the madrassahs of Pakistan. This is the de facto way of educating Pakistan’s poorer children in little mosque schools which consist of nothing but Qu’ranic surahs and words of ‘wisdom’ or ‘interpretation’ by the local mullah of the said mosque/school. Most probably these children in many Pakistani madrassahs, especially the ones who live near the border areas within the NWFP or North West Frontier Province of Pakistan as this is the part of the country most affected by its close proximity to Afghanistan.

The people in this area of Pakistan, as well as their cousins in Afghanistan have been fighting one enemy or another for the better part of 100 years now. Whether to them the enemy be the British, during the height of the British Raj rule in India, or to the Soviets and the Red army and the Cold War, then in chronological order came the infighting after the Russian withdrawal as various Tajik, Afghani, Uzbek, Pakistani warlords came in to try and consolidate power to now us Americans and the Pakistanis who are our allies in this war.

Granted we do often hear that the Pakistanis can be doing more. By all accounts, the Pakistani government can do more in terms of fighting this war on terror. Numerous western reports and articles in respected dailies have alleged that small elements within both Pakistan’s Army as well as the spy agency, the ISI, have sympathizers to either the Taliban’s cause or they want to be on favorable terms with a powerful entity that most in Pakistan’s establishment believes that Pakistan will be dealing with and not a weakened Karzai once the US begins to draw down troops and end the war by 2014. If this is indeed true, then these ‘officers’ and supposed ‘leaders’ of Pakistan should realize that the colluding with the enemy, which in this case is the Taliban, is tantamount to treason, and the members of the armed forces of Pakistan as well as the intelligence community should not be assisting the enemies of all concerned: Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States. 

Of course we must not kid ourselves and assume that only alleviating the illiteracy and poverty of the Pakistani youth will and bettering the education system of the Pakistani poor, particularly that of the refugees and residents of the northwest areas near the Afghan border. No there needs to be a study and introspection by the people of these two countries where this hatred breeds. To to get out of this darkness, the population needs be provided not only safety when delivering food aid and or medicine but aldo most importantly give them a book, a pen, and a paper. And teach them how to fish for knowledge with basic comprehension and deductive reasoning skills that can reject a radical and violent view of Islam too often manipulated by the clergy. This is the only way we can come to end this illiteracy of hate.

Manzer Munir, is a proud and patriotic Pakistani American, an author, who plans to write a book on Pakistan, who is also a blogger and journalist, and as the Founder of Pakistanis for Peace  can be found at www.PakistanisforPeace.com, www.DigitalJournal.com ,www.Open.Salon.com, www.Examiner.com, as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

‘Attack in Pakistan Affront to Humanity’ says President Obama

As Reported by Hindustan Times from the Indo-Asian News Service

US President Barack Obama condemned a suicide bombing in Pakistan that left at least 44 people dead at a UN World Food Programme distribution point on Saturday. “Killing innocent civilians outside a World Food Programme distribution point is an affront to the people of Pakistan, and to all

humanity,” Obama said that in a statement issued from Hawaii, where he is spending Christmas with his family.
“The United States stands with the people of Pakistan in this difficult time, and will strongly support Pakistan’s efforts to ensure greater peace, security and justice for its people.”

A female suicide bomber targeted the crowd collecting food at the distribution centre in Khar. Seventy others were injured in the attack in the Bajaur tribal district, where government forces are fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda militants.

Saturday’s bombing targeted the Salarzai tribe, which has joined forces with the government against the Taliban and raised a tribal militia to drive them out of their area. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack in a message sent to various news organizations.

Holiday brings Muslims, Jews Together to Volunteer

By Niraj Warikoo for The Detroit Free Press

Detroit, Michigan– For the past 20 years, hundreds of local Jews have volunteered on Christmas to help needy people on a day when many Christians are busy celebrating the holiday.

But because Dec. 25 falls on a Saturday this year — a day of rest for observant Jews — the Muslim community will be filling in on Christmas, helping at soup kitchens, senior citizen homes and in impoverished neighborhoods.

The Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan hopes to get 400 volunteers.

The Jewish community will move its volunteer efforts to today, Christmas Eve, as part of Mitzvah Month, which refers to good deeds. Last year, the Jewish community invited the Muslim community to help out on Christmas for the first time. That partnership continues this year, with some Muslims helping on Christmas Eve, too.

“The more contact we have, the more understanding,” said Freya Weberman, 51, of Huntington Woods, who will be delivering toys in Detroit today with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metro Detroit. “There is fear of the unknown. By bringing people together and having shared experiences, we see our commonalities.”

When Micki Grossman of Farmington Hills read journalist Helen Thomas’ comments about Zionists earlier this month, the Jewish woman was hurt. “It caused a lot of pain for me,” she said.

“I also wish that we could have had more of our Muslim friends stand up and say, ‘This was not appropriate.’ ”

But some Muslims and Arab Americans were upset that Jewish leaders pressured Wayne State University to remove an award in her name.

At the annual banquet this month of the local chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, people wore buttons reading “Defender of Thomas,” said regional director Imad Hamad.

“You can’t punish someone for the right of freedom of expression,” Hamad said, referring to Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent.

Despite the differences of opinion, about 200 Jewish volunteers — along with 40 Muslim ones — will work together today to help serve poor people across metro Detroit.

Grossman will be among them, glad to help people in need while bringing two communities together.

Gigi Salka, 41, a Muslim from Bloomfield Township whose children attend bar mitzvahs, also will be volunteering — one of dozens of Muslims helping on Christmas.

It is one way in which local Jews and Muslims are trying to build ties despite their differences on politics and foreign affairs. Last month, a health fair run by Jews and Muslims was held in a Detroit mosque. And Muslim leaders spoke earlier this year before the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metro Detroit.

The council organizes the event, which is usually held Christmas Day, but this year that is on the Jewish Sabbath, a day of rest for observant Jews.

Last year, the Jewish community invited Muslims to help them volunteer on Christmas. The partnership was a historic first, with about 60 Muslims helping 900 Jewish volunteers. This year, up to 400 Muslims led by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan will take the lead on Christmas.

“We have many similarities,” Grossman said. “Let’s look for the sameness rather than the differences.”

Such partnerships are playing out across metro Detroit.

Victor Begg of Bloomfield Hills, a co-founder of the Islamic council who is helping to lead the volunteer effort with Muslims this week, said they “are part of an ongoing effort by our communities to bridge the gap.” He had no comment on the Thomas controversy.

Hamad said he was upset over the Jewish community’s pressure on WSU to drop the award in Thomas’ name, but he maintains contact with Jewish leaders such as Betsy Kellman, head of the Michigan branch of the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights group.

“We are Americans first,” Hamad said. “We should not see ourselves as an extension of the external conflict abroad.”

Ismael Ahmed, a longtime Arab-American leader who is the director of the state Department of Human Services, spoke to the board of the Jewish council this month about poverty issues.

“The Jewish and Arab communities have a huge amount in common — a sense of family, a sense of community,” Ahmed said. “But we have different views on the Middle East.” At the same time, “I think that isn’t a major divide” because “we’re very much alike.”

Salka will be volunteering on Christmas because it is important to give back, she said. To her, interacting and forging ties with people of various backgrounds is part of her everyday life.

“My friends are from all different faith traditions,” Salka said. It’s on an individual level, “how you change hearts and minds, the personal connections.”

A Muslim Christmas on Long Island

By Farhan Husain for The Long Island Report

Christmas is turning into a cultural holiday for some Muslims in the Long Island area as they mark the occasion with gifts, decorations, and family get-togethers.

“Growing up, we did have a Christmas tree… I think just because he [dad] didn’t want us to feel left out,” said student Asra Arif, 20, from Deer Park.

Indeed, it’s becoming almost a custom to celebrate Christmas for most Muslim-Americans. Many came from countries that don’t even have a word for “Christmas” but it becomes almost inevitable to join in with friends and neighbors who go “holiday-crazy” during this time of year.

“It’s really just celebrating the season. It’s the only time of the year where families don’t have work or anything like that,” Arif said.

Arif is a first-generation Muslim-American with Pakistani parents. Her family, like many others, has made it a tradition to gather with loved ones and exchange gifts during Christmas time.

However, unlike Christian and Catholic families who celebrate the birth of Christ every Dec. 25, Arif’s family celebrates the atmosphere of the holidays. “I just enjoy the spirit of it. I’m not celebrating anything religious, just being with family…” Arif said.

Retail manager Dafina Mexhuani, 21, from Westbury, does the same. “It’ll be celebrating to the extent of, not really Christmas… but you know like the whole decorating, and the gift giving, and all that stuff. But if you call that celebrating it, then I guess I am,” she said.

She celebrates a holiday with her family every year around Christmas time, but doesn’t call it Christmas. “I grew up in an apartment building and my dad was the super. We always used to put up a tree in the lobby, and so we started doing it in my house. It’s just how it’s always been, really,” she said.

Mexhuani was born in the Bronx and her family of three siblings and her parents were born and raised in Albania. She’s never experienced a year without Christmas.

“The idea of Christmas we just think of generally as a winter holiday, so we don’t necessarily celebrate it… or have a significant religious attachment to it,” said Mehreen Syeda 27, from New Hyde Park, Long Island.

Syeda will be celebrating the holiday season with her Pakistani-American family, because it’s the only time of the year where everyone is off from work. Though she was not born or raised in the U.S., Syeda and her family wrapped and exchanged presents, solely to be part of something that was happening culturally around them.

“I think it’s important for kids to be knowing what their friends are going to be doing, and why they’re doing what they’re doing,” she said when describing how she was going to handle the holiday season with her children. Syeda said she would never steer her children away from experiencing it, though she would draw a fine line between religion and culture.

Some Muslims dislike the idea of celebrating Christmas as the “holiday season.” Things like Christmas trees and stocking stuffers tend to be associated with Christmas, so some choose to avoid those all together while still pleasing their children.

“We do give gifts and stuff, but we don’t have a tree or any of that up… It’s not a Muslim holiday, therefore, we don’t celebrate it,” said student Armend Cobovic, 19, from Manhattan. Cobovic and his family are from Montenegro and knew about Christmas before they moved here 15 years ago, but he was surprised to see that other Muslim-Americans celebrate Christmas.

“I think they [Muslim-Americans] are stuck into society nowadays instead of going back to their own culture,” he said. Thought he doesn’t celebrate Christmas, he does exchange gifts during the holidays for another reason, “I understand getting a present, just so your child isn’t left out… but say it’s for new year.”

With New Year’s and other religious holidays around the end of December, it makes it the only time families get to spend time with each other.

Musho Kolenovic, 18, from Stony Brook, always gets together with his family in their upstate house during Christmas time. “It’s one of the few times in the year where everyone has off, and we can meet up, and just have good old family time,” Kolenovic said.

His family does exchange gifts during this time of the year, but they never call it “celebrating Christmas” because they never put up lights or a tree. “I’ll take the presents over the tree anytime.”

Whether they call it Christmas or not, the family time, gifts for children, and the spirit of the holidays gets the better of Muslim-Americans because of the American culture.

“Not that my parents are opposed to it, I think their culture is different. They aren’t used to celebrations like we are,” said student Sameera Namazi, 21, Valley Stream. Culture in America has adopted Christmas as part of being American, and Sameera had no issue with it, “Muslims do believe in Jesus, we can commemorate his birth… So if we want to, we can.”

Full-Body Security Scanners Scrapped at Dubai Airports, Officials Say the Device “Contradicts Islam”

By Aliyah Shahid for The NY Daily News

Forget about London and France — in Dubai, airport screeners won’t be able to see your underpants.

Dubai police said full-body security scanners will not be used at the airports because the devices do not correspond with national customs and ethics, according to local press reports on Tuesday.

The scanners “contradict Islam,” said Ahmad Mohammad Bin Thani, head of airport security. He said the idea was scrapped”out of respect for the privacy of individuals and their personal freedom.”

The scanners will be replaced with other inspection systems that protect passengers’ privacy, Thani said. He told the Gulf News that police are considering the use of face-recognition cameras.

Recently, American officials have been encouraging use of the full-body scanners.

Authorities say the scanners could have stopped a Nigerian man who planted explosives in his underwear in an attempt to bring down a plane bound for the U.S. last Christmas.

Several European countries have tested the technology, including the Netherlands, Britain and France. South Korea and Japan have begun test programs.

But the machines have remained controversial. Critics have argued the scanners violate passenger privacy by producing”naked” pictures and liken the procedure to”virtual strip searches.”

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