In a very strange set of coincidences, this September 11th may see Muslim Americans celebrating their holiest sacrificial festival while the rest of the country mourns one of the most horrific days in United States history.
Like all Muslim holidays, the festival of Eid al-Adha, known as Eid, is determined by the Muslim calendar, which varies greatly from year to year. The calendar is set in Mecca and based on the sighting of the new moon. If the moon is sighted on September first, then Eid, the Feast of the Sacrifice, will fall on the anniversary of one of America’s worst terror attacks.
2,996 people were killed and over 6,000 injured on September 11, 2001 when radical Muslim terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, destroying the Twin Towers completely and severely damaging the headquarters of the US Department of Defense.
This will be the first time since 9/11 that any Muslim holiday falls on the date, raising questions and concerns about how Muslims will celebrate on a day of mourning for all other Americans.
The holiday of Eid also happens to represent a serious conflict between Islam and Judeo-Christian Biblical tradition. It honors Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, a well-established Biblical event, but revises Genesis, putting Ishmael in Isaac’s place.
The Koran mentions the sacrifice but does not specify which son was chosen. However, Muslim tradition claims it was Ishmael, the patriarch of Islam, that lay on the altar. This contradicts the Bible, which clearly states that Isaac, the patriarch of both Christianity and Judaism, was specified by God to be the sacrifice.
And [God] said: ‘Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Yitzchak, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.’ Genesis 22:2
In another significant difference in the narrative, Islam holds that the site of the altar was the Kaaba in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam and the destination for the hajj pilgrimage. According to Jewish tradition (and the Bible), the site of the sacrifice was Mount Moriah, which later became the location of the Temple Mount.
The unfortunate confluence of September 11th and a public Muslim celebration dredges up an uncomfortable and contentious topic. Celebrations in American-Arab communities in New Jersey on the actual day of the attack – in honor of the attack – were widely reported in the press, with eyewitness reports cited and prominent officials quoted.
However, the reports were quickly quashed and the claim continues to hit a nerve. In December of last year, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump decried Muslim celebrations in the aftermath of the attacks in New York City. He was vilified in the press for perpetuating an Islamophobic urban myth.
It was also widely reported that Palestinians in East Jerusalem and other Arab cities in Israel celebrated the attacks. The Palestinian Authority (PA) claimed that Reuters videos of the celebrations were fakes, old footage use to sensationalize fictitious accounts. The PA even claimed the celebrations were staged by Israelis who either threatened or bribed Palestinians to take part. The videos were, in fact, found to be authentic recordings of these celebrations, with no Israeli complicity.
The PA also attempted to censure the broadcasts and other news reports. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Yaaser Arafat’s Cabinet secretary, said the PA could not “guarantee the life” of an Associated Press cameraman if footage he filmed of post-9/11 celebrations in Nablus (Shechem) was broadcast.
Despite being carried out by Muslims, the attacks were largely condemned in the Muslim world, including by some leaders who were at war or were enemies of the US. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, now dead, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, both outspoken enemies of the US, joined in the condemnations.The notable exception was Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, who said the attacks were “the American cowboys reaping the fruit of their crimes against humanity”.
The possibility of anti-Islamic reaction to celebrations of this year’s holiday is a source of concern in the Muslim community. The New York Times reported that some mosques which normally hold prayers outside on the holiday will be praying indoors this year. In the wake of an imam and his assistant being shot to death in Queens last week, New York City is arranging extra security for Islamic sites on the upcoming holiday.
In contrast, and perhaps in defiance, Masjid Al-Mamoor, also known as the Jamaica Muslim Center, will be holding one of the largest gatherings for the holiday in the New York area, with 20,000 Muslim men expected to attend the outdoor prayer service.