Muslims fear backlash if Eid al-Adha falls on 9/11 this year

The vagaries of the lunar calendar mean Islamic festival may land on September 11 for the first time since the al-Qaeda attacks of 2001

Rachael Revesz
New York
Monday 29 August 2016 19:21
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Muslims gather to pray during the holy festivities, but this year Muslims will 'need to be alert'
Muslims gather to pray during the holy festivities, but this year Muslims will 'need to be alert'

Muslims in America are preparing themsleves for the possibillity that their holiest holiday, Eid al-Adha - the feast of the sacrifice - could fall on 11 September this year, the 15th anniversary of al-Qaeda attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Tensions are already high during a febrile election year and some fear the coincidence could provoke a backlash against America's Muslim population.

Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun chair of Islamic Studies at the American University in Washington DC and the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland, told The Independent that Muslims may feel the “need to be alert” next month.

“In this atmosphere one act of violence could trigger another act of violence as there is heightened tension,” he said.

As the world has witnessed an increasing number of terrorist attacks from radical jihad forces, or lone men who claim to be affiliated with them, in parallel with increasing anti-Muslim rhetoric from the likes of Republican Donald Trump, Mr Ahmed warned there could be a spike of anti-Muslim hostility.

“I thought that after 9/11 the graph of volence would slowly go down as we [the Muslim community] are all proactive and have been working with other faiths,” he said.

“But the evidence before us does not confirm our optimism. The violent incidents are too frequent and too bloody on both sides.”

Eid al-Fitr, another major holiday, has taken place close to 11 September, but so far the day has not directly coincided with 9/11.

The dates of the religious festival are calculated and set by scholars using the lunar calendar. As a result their date in the Western calendar varies.

The attack in 2001, which killed nearly 3,000 people, has become a highly emotive and symbolic incident and is often connected with American nationalism, said Mr Ahmed.

During the presidential campaign trail, Mr Trump exploited this sentiment when he insisted that he had seen hundreds of Muslims cheering and clapping as the Twin Towers fell.

Mr Ahmed acknowledged that the world had been rocked by multiple attacks, both Islamophobic - the destroying and vandalising of mosques, the shooting and beating of innocent Muslims - and attacks in the name of Islam - like in Paris, Nice, Brussels and Istanbul - by those who believe they need to defend their religion through violence.

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Mr Ahmed has invited Gold Star parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, to his house for tea in September to discuss these issues. Mr Khan challenged Mr Trump at the Democratic National Convention to read the US constitution and to stop “smearing” Muslims’ characters, quickly becoming one of the most talked about people in the country.

Mr Khan has "pricked the balloon of Islamophobia" from Mr Trump, according to the professor, but there remains much hatred and misunderstanding.

In the city of New York this summer, two Muslim teenagers were badly beaten outside a mosque in Brooklyn and an imam and his assistant were shot in separate incidents.

Mr Ahmed warned that some young, Muslim men today lack leadership and guidance. But if the West spurns and rejects Muslims - for example, the attempt to ban the burkini in France, or the threat to deport Muslims from the US - they will encourage the minority of people who would commit violence in the first place.

"These things [attacks] are happening because lot of people know little about Islam: they think Muslims are all violent and crazy and programmed to go out and cause violence," he said.

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"Even for something as neutral as the month of fasting, some commentators say Muslims are more violent [during this time]," he added.

"In fact they tend to be exactly the opposite as it's a month of prayers and withdrawing from the world, God, compassion, good things."

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