Daily Herald: Leaders call for unity as Muslims mark Eid, nation observes 9/11

Thousands of suburban Muslims, and millions more around the world on Friday mark the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan with the Eid-ul-Fitr festival, which for the first time in years coincides with the Sept. 11 anniversary.

Both solemn events arrive amid an escalating national controversy over a proposed Islamic center near ground zero, a Florida pastor’s call to burn copies of Islam’s holy book, the Quran, on Sept. 11, and a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment and hate crimes.

In an effort to counter the growing Islamophobia, religious and civic leaders of all stripes are coming together Friday calling for unity and to speak out against hate, intolerance and violent extremism.

“Basically this is the holiest day for Muslims out of the year,” said Amina Sharif, communications coordinator for CAIR-Chicago, a chapter of the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. “And since this year it falls so close to 9/11, it’s an opportunity for us to discuss tolerance and peace. It’s a day that we pray for those who are struggling around the world, and that includes the families of 9/11 victims.”

Leaders of Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Presbyterian, Methodist, Latino, Asian, African and Arab communities will conduct a joint news conference Friday morning following a congregational Eid prayer at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.

“This is a unique moment in which we, as a society, can declare that we shall remain true to a core value upon which this country was founded,” said Jane Ramsey, executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. “Let us send a message to Muslim Americans that we embrace them as full and equal American citizens.”

More than 15,000 Muslim worshipers are expected to attend the prayer service.

Notable guests include Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, Secretary of State Jesse White, and faith leaders calling to dedicate Sept. 11 as a national day of prayer and healing.

“I think we are all struggling to find the best positive ways to speak out against what clearly is threatening our society in general and our religious freedoms and responsibilities in particular,” said the Rev. Paul Rutgers, co-executive director of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago. “If getting together will help set the right course … and bring this community together again without hostility, we’ve got to do that.”

Eid falling around the same time as Sept. 11 is a lunar coincidence, said Kiran Ansari, spokeswoman for the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

Ramadan and Eid move up about 10 days earlier each year because Islamic months are calculated based on the rotating lunar calendar. Depending on the sighting of the new moon, some Muslims who started their fasts a day later than others could observe Eid on Saturday.

“We would never want anyone to misconstrue the situation and think Muslims are celebrating on 9/11 weekend,” Ansari said. “We are not apologetic about our holiday, (but) like any other American, we remember and mourn the thousands of lives that were lost nine years ago.”

The council, a federation of 63 mosques and Muslim organizations, has asked imams giving sermons during Eid prayer to remember the victims of Sept. 11, she added.

“We’re trying to be proactive because there are so many hate crimes stemming from the New York mosque controversy,” Ansari said.

In recent weeks, there have been incidents reported across the country of mosques being desecrated, and Muslims and their places of worship being attacked.

“We pray that nothing happens anywhere,” Ansari said. “We don’t want any of these hate crimes to escalate or even one incident of a hate crime this weekend. We hope for the whole nation to be safe.”

The council also will conduct a voter-registration drive with help from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights during Eid prayer at Meridian Banquets in Rolling Meadows, DuPage Expo in St. Charles, and Toyota Park in Bridgeview.

“We have to work harder to let people know that there is so much Islamophobia going on, and to let our elected leaders know that they have a very large and active Muslim constituency,” Ansari said. “And the most American way to make our voice heard is to go and vote.”