Today marks the first day of Ramadan, an important holiday in the Muslim faith. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Ramadan is a period of introspection, communal prayer (ṣalāt) in the mosque, and reading of the Qurʾān. God forgives the past sins of those who observe the holy month with fasting, prayer, and faithful intention.” During this month, healthy, adult Muslims are expected to fast from dawn to sunset, with a nightly feast called iftar occurring after sunset.
Another important holiday coming up is the Jewish holiday of Passover. Passover is an eight-day holiday celebrated in the spring. It remembers the Israelites freedom and journey out of slavery in ancient Egypt. Also called Pesach, Passover contains a variety of rules. According to Chabad, “The first two days and last two days are full-fledged holidays, Holiday candles are lit at night, and kiddush and sumptuous holiday meals are enjoyed on both nights and days. We don’t go to work, drive, write, or switch on or off electric devices. We are permitted to cook and to carry outdoors.”
Growing up, I wasn’t very familiar with either of these holidays. I’d only ever heard of Ramadan on the calendar. I was a little more familiar with Passover, considering its significance in the Bible, but that was it. I wasn’t aware that this was a holiday still celebrated all over the world.
In many areas of the United States, people have little exposure to communities that aren’t primarily white or Christian. Big box stores like Walmart or Target have decorations for holidays like Easter and Christmas, events mainly celebrated by Christian tradition. While there has been a little bit more recognition of Hannakah, other holidays are quickly looked over.
According to research done by the Pew Research Center, after Christianity (63%), Judaism (2%) and Islam (1%) are the next religions in line of popularity. While 1% may not sound like much, that is still over 3 million people in the United States. This doesn’t include the millions of other Americans who celebrate many of these religions’ holidays based on cultural tradition alone.
I am of the opinion that we should be learning more about different religions and cultures, both in and out of schools.
I am aware that many schools, in an attempt to make people of all religions comfortable, have taken a strict “no religion” policy in their classrooms. I understand where this is coming from, but I think this does more harm than good. I’m not saying teachers should require their students to perform the five daily Muslim prayers or share in a Christian Bible study. Instead, students should be educated about each of these religions and their traditions and teachings.
If students began learning about people who are different from them in a positive light starting at a young age, I believe that they will grow up to be more tolerant and kind adults.
A major issue in the United States and around the world today is anti-Semitism. In recent years, there has been a rise in negative sentiments towards people of both Jewish faith and heritage.
According to a study done by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) covered by AP, “four in five Jews said in the 2022 survey that antisemitism has grown in the past five years. … A quarter of the respondents said they were directly targeted by antisemitic expressions, with 3% reporting a physical attack.”
The more someone is educated about people different from them, the less likely I think it is that people will have these negative sentiments. It is much harder to villainize someone or a group of people when you already see them as human.
With that being said, here are a few ways you can celebrate Ramadan and Passover.
- Educate yourself. Learning more about specific holiday traditions and history is a wonderful way to share in the holiday.
- Make traditional foods. Many muslims have traditional and cultural food during iftar, such as the Egyptian mahshi (Egyptian stuffed vegetable) or dates (the traditional breaking of fast starts with dates). During Passover, a traditional seder dinner will often have matzah (unleavened bread), karpas (specific vegetable dipped in a liquid) or salt water (representing the tears of the Jewish slaves).
- Respect those who observe the holiday. Even if you don’t celebrate the holiday itself, many people do. Respect their views and help them perform these traditions if they request it.