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Citizenship

Ramadan, Passover and Holi For Everyone!

Last week, New York City schools decided to formally recognize Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr as public holidays.  Growing up in the suburbs of NYC - one of the largest and most diverse cities in the world - I vividly recall blank stares when explaining these significant holidays to people.

Despite being in a great school system in an affluent NY suburb, post 9/11 culture made me nervous to elaborate on my family’s faith. As a result, I ended up creating two separate worlds for myself: one for school and friends, the other for my culture, religion and family - and I dreaded the two worlds colliding.

It’s not all that surprising that my peers hadn’t heard of “Ramadan” or “Eid”, but the number of adults - educators - that I had to explain these occasions to was surprising. I remember fasting as a nine year old and being scolded for starving myself by cafeteria attendants. I remember the confused look on my gym teacher’s face when I said I was unable to run long distances in the blistering sun, since I was not able to drink water. 

And while I don’t practice this faith anymore, I often reflect on the awkwardness of practicing as a kid and the general lack of awareness around Islam and think that everyone could benefit from greater religious understanding. In New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement, he declared that students "will no longer have to choose between honouring the most sacred days on their calendar or attending school.” This is a strong move towards equality in a country that touts religious acceptance, but doesn’t always follow through. 

Education and discussion about all faiths is critical to treating people fairly, and there are valuable lessons, texts, histories and figures in every religion. Understanding the overlap between faiths, as well as highlighting their uniqueness, is a great strategy for promoting religious harmony. Here are three awesome religious events that can be educational, fun, and interfaith:


Iftars

Iftar is the breaking of the fast during Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Every evening for thirty days, Muslim families and communities convene to pray, reflect on their days, and of course, eat! Even though this an important Islamic tradition, interfaith iftars are becoming increasingly common. The month of Ramadan is meant to celebrate unity and charity, a message that everyone can - and should - get on board with. Because the traditions around Ramadan are very diverse already, interfaith iftars are a great way of learning about different cultures and cuisines (in addition to learning about Islam, of course).

Here are some examples of iftars around the world:

UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran


Passover Seder

I’ve had the great pleasure of going to many Passover seders. In addition to the amazing food (nothing beats a good brisket), the experience itself is very educational and beautiful in its tradition. The ritual tells the story of the ancient Israelites’ quest for freedom in Egypt, and is paired with various Hebrew songs and prayers. However, there are adaptations of the Haggadah (which outlines these traditions) that cater to interfaith communities and families. These versions are used throughout the world to tell a more general narrative of freedom, religious tolerance and harmony.

Also, did I mention the food was delicious?

Photo by Amy Ross

Photo by Edsel Little


Holi

Holi, also known as the festival of love/colours, is an ancient Hindu tradition that signifies the end of winter, forgiveness and a new start. This is celebrated all throughout the world in Hindu communities, and even non-Hindu communities. Holi is meant to be celebrated by people in all walks of life (though this isn’t always the case, as my colleague explores), and while it’s most known for its colourful dyes, it’s a complex holiday that’s celebrated differently all around the world.

Photo by Nisarg Photography

Photo by Steven Gerner

Photo by Ronaldo Lazzari


Even though Ramadan, Passover and Holi all have deep religious importance for adherents, there are lessons and celebrations within them that can be shared by all. The concepts of charity, freedom and forgiveness (as these holidays respectively promote) are hard to reflect on day to day, and religion gives a lot of people the opportunity to do this with their loved ones and communities.

Even if it means pushing our own boundaries and dipping into other people’s ideologies - even if we don’t agree with them - that doesn’t erase their value in society. As global citizens, we need to be conscious of this value and understanding of different beliefs in order to fully promote the full equality of all people around the world.