By Jill Colvin
MANHATTAN — After a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset, Shamsher Ashraf wants to celebrate. When Ramadan ends later this week, the 35 year-old cab driver plans to wake up, travel to his mosque to pray and then call family members across the globe to offer congratulations. Then he hopes to join friends for a celebratory meal. It's the ritual he's undertaken every year for decades.
But this year, Eid ul-Fitr, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan, happens to fall within days of the anniversary of 9/11. And as tensions over the proposed mosque and cultural center two blocks from the World Trade Center site continue to simmer, he's worried about how the celebrations might be misconstrued.
"I am afraid," said Ashraf, who lives in Queens, as he arrived at the Islamic Society of Mid Manhattan for evening prayers Monday night. "I don’t feel comfortable with our calendar [placing Eid] on or before or on the next day [of 9/11]," he said.
From California to Tennessee to Maryland, imams across the country have told reporters they are planning to scale back celebrations of Eid for fear of making the false impression that they are celebrating the attack. Some have cancelled events, while others have pushed them back to avoid the anniversary date.
But in New York, many Muslim leaders said they won't let those fears alter their plans.
"We're not doing anything we don't routinely do," said Imam Al-Amin Abdul Latif, president of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York, who said he has heard nothing from other imams in the city about toning down events. "We're not going to make an issue of it."
Because Islam follows the lunar calendar, dates for religious holidays change from year to year. This year, Ramadan will be celebrated by most on Sept. 9 or Sept. 10, depending on when fasting began, said Dalia Mahmoud, the New York director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Faiza Ali, community affairs director of the New York branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the Muslims she'd spoken to had mixed reactions to this year's coincidental overlap of Eid and the 9/11 anniversary.
Some, like Ashraf, worry the celebrations could incite violence, like the recent alleged slashing of a Muslim cab driver. Others are offended by the very notion that there should even be an issue, arguing that if it were Christmas, no one would say a word.
"Given the current climate, some community members are concerned that their ordinary holiday celebrations may be misunderstood and seen in conflict with the anniversary of 9/11," Ali said in an email.
"Others feel that adjusting their religious traditions will reinforce the false notion that American Muslims are somehow connected to the attacks, when most reject that kind of collective guilt," she wrote.
Muhammad Tariqur Rahman, secretary general of the Islamic Circle of North America, said he has no plans to change his routine and has faith that non-Muslims will understand that the anniversary and celebrations have nothing to do with each other.
"These are religious observances and nothing outside of that," he said.
Syed Sajid Husain, who sits on the Council of Imams and Muslim Leaders, agreed.
"Everybody knows we are celebrating Ramadan," he said.
But Latif said that even if he isn't canceling events, one thing he is doing differently is encouraging imams across the country to reach out to their neighbors to explain the holiday so they know what to expect.
Mahmoud, of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said she has also seen a move toward community service-themed events to celebrate the end of Ramadan this year, as well a a renewed focus on reflection.
"For those that are in New York, it’s a somber day," she said. "It’s a time for mourning and reflecting on what has happened, so it makes sense," she said of the change.
Shamsi Ali, the Imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York (often nick-named the 96th St. Mosque) said that while events at his mosque this year will mirror last year's routine, he does expect the celebrations to take a more somber tone.
"As a community, we want to use this opportunity to reflect," he said. "It’s a time for us to heal the wounds and come together."