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Kari Ansari: A Traditional Muslim Thanksgiving

24 November 2011 Huffington Post 12 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

Kari Ansari: A Traditional Muslim Thanksgiving

The common narrative of Thanksgiving brings to mind scenes from elementary school plays featuring the happy Pilgrims sharing their harvest feast with happy Native Americans. Both groups shared a communal meal and gave thanks for a bountiful first harvest in the New World. This was the harvest that saved the surviving English settlers from starvation and death after a devastating first winter that diminished their numbers by half. If it hadn’t been for the almost miraculous appearance of the English-speaking Tisquantum — commonly known as Squanto —
who taught the remaining Pilgrims how to cultivate maize, and to hunt and fish, our school play might have been very different.

While researching the origins of this national holiday, I was surprised to discover that Thanksgiving wasn’t a new or unique practice among these religious new immigrants to the land. After barely surviving a ruinous drought the next year, a second Thanksgiving celebration in Plymouth was declared by Governor William Bradford. However, he first called for a religious fast to express thankfulness to God, which was then followed by a feast day. Annual days of fasting and thanksgiving were common practice among other New England settlements.

Thanksgiving didn’t become an institutionalized event until the midst of the Civil War. in 1863, President Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday of November to be an official day for Americans to “fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” Since then the last Thursday of November has been an American holiday with the exception of two years during the Great Depression. President Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third Thursday of November to stimulate Christmas retail sales, since advertising and promoting goods for Christmas before the Thanksgiving holiday was considered to be in bad taste.* The impetus for this date change signals the erosion of the religious focus of Thanksgiving to something more secular. In 2011, it’s fair to say that we as a nation consider the modern expression of Thanksgiving to be getting together with family or friends, overeating, football, and a day to rest up before Black Friday.

While the religious significance of Thanksgiving has been lost for many Americans, Muslim Americans will say that it’s not lost for us.

This original Thanksgiving celebration, preceded by fasting, is very familiar to Islamic practices. Muslims observe a month-long fast during the holy month of Ramadan, followed by the celebration of Eid al Fitr. Muslims should also fast on the day of Arafah in preparation for the next three days of celebration of Eid al-Adha. Devout Muslims follow the example of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad by fasting on Mondays and Thursdays as well.

We ritually express gratefulness to God in our five daily prayers with the Opening Prayer, Al Fatiha:

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Praise be to God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds;
Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
Master of the Day of Judgment.
Thee (alone) do we worship, and whose aid we seek.
Show us the straight way,
The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.

After completing the ritual prayers, we recite dhikr. Traditionally, dhikr, (akin to saying a rosary), is expressing praise and gratitude to God. We say, alhamdoulillah (all praise and thanks are due to God), Subhan’Allah, (Glory be to God) and Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) 33 times each — which adds up to praising God at least 495 times a day with all 5 prayers. We do our best to have our lips moist with thanks and praise for God all day long.

The supplications given during prayer, and the ritual 99 words of thanks and praise after each prayer are only the beginning of a Muslim’s expression of gratitude to God. Listening to Muslims speaking to one another you’ll hear phrases like, insha’Allah, (if God wills it so), when speaking of something in the future; when the discussion surrounds a beautiful thing such as an autumn tree in all it’s flaming glory, a Muslim will say, “subhan’Allah” to remind himself that God created the miracle of the changing seasons. If I ask a Muslim, “how are you?” he will likely say, “alhamdoulillah“. This answer doesn’t tell me if his roof was fixed, or if he got the hoped-for job promotion, but I will know this person is living in a state of God-consciousness with the ultimate belief that we have no control over the universe, or a leaking roof.

Another myth about Muslims in America can be put to rest. Muslims will be patriotically observing Thanksgiving all across America as a day of gratefulness, topped off with halal turkey and exotic takes on side dishes that rival the American green bean casserole and sweet potatoes.

While Muslims give thanks to God every day, the fourth Thursday of November will always be remembered with special consideration of the difficult times faced by America’s first immigrants. They arrived on the shores of this spectacular land with great hope to freely practice their faith, and live peacefully among the folks who were already living here.

Sound familiar?

*Known as Franksgiving, the earlier Thanksgiving date only lasted two years. There was great public outcry against the change; folks felt it dishonored President Lincoln. Under political pressure, FDR signed a bill into law restoring the fourth Thursday of November as the permanent date for Thanksgiving.


  1. DISCLAIMER: repost from neo nazi article, about to scroll, and i have to get my two cents in. plus S seems to think i don’t know how to read. but s/he’s not alone her.


    yes i read the article. yes i know they are hindu. yes i’m familiar with the caste system and it’s totally discrimatory nature. it’s a terrible system for trying to build a just society. as is the abrahamic traditions and all the non-sense in the bible and koran. i often try to help out the “if they where muslim” guys. here’s one for them
    in fact i posted a link to the neo-nazi article 3 or 4 days before this article.

    as for this article i think the author is wrong. that’s why i question weather they even read the news? i saw several news outlets carry this story, and for several days. this was world wide news.

    {i had several links to news organization covering this story here, won’t paste them, they would get held up in modderation all now being on one comment}
    and i won’t bother reposting the bbc article i originally posted. but if you want good world news i would suggest the bbc over any american outlet. but wsj and cnn aren’t too bad. or check out al-jassera, i image they ran with this story like crazy.

    24 November 2011 at 8:52 am salim,

    “then God help us we would never hear the end of it” yeah like the crusades. so let me see if i got the rules right. no bringing up muslim actions from what the last twenty years? once a news artilce is 3 days old, no more mentioning it? but if you leapfrog back 20 years, then all history is relevent to the debate? you might want to let the people running the site know. i see them rehash articles all the time. just had the brit stopped for his weight vest article on again. how many times is that 3? and no one even died. but he was slightly inconvenienced. and what where the comments. omg the horror this man had to endure. i guess that’s why it warrents so much attention.

    but yeah criley,

    just because some churches are burnt in ethiopia, the copts bombed in egypt, a church destroyed in senagel, christians attacked by boko haram in nigeria, of the 1 million christians in iraq there are only a couple hundred thousand left….the list goes on and on. don’t be implying muslims are in any way violent or not tolerant of others’ religion.

    24 November 2011 at 9:11 am Have your say!

  2. Now muslims are “piggy-backing” on American holiday’s! Taqiyya is alive and well – Quran 5:32

  3. There are numerous religious festivals and fairs of the unbelievers. Islam prohibits the
    Muslims to celebrate their festivals and fairs. The Prophet (!) had prohibited his companions
    from sports and enjoyment on two particular days on which the pre-Islamic Arabs used to
    hold sports. Likewise, he forbade them to sacrifice their animals at the places where the
    polytheists used to celebrate their festivals.

  4. The festivals of the kaafir nations may be connected to worldly matters, such as the beginning
    of the year, the start of an agricultural season, the changing of the weather, the establishment
    of a state, the accession of a ruler, and so on. They may also be connected to religious
    occasions, like many of the festivals belonging exclusively to the Jews and Christians, such
    as the Thursday on which they claim the table was sent down to Jesus, Christmas, New
    Year’s, Thanksgiving, and holidays on which gifts are exchanged. These are celebrated in all
    European and North American countries nowadays. And in other countries where Christian
    influence is prevalent, even if the country is not originally Christian, some so-called Muslims
    join in these holidays, out of ignorance or hypocrisy. The Magians (Zoroastrians) also have
    their own festivals, such as Mahrajaan, Nowruz and so on.

  5. Muslims are strictly prohibited from joining these religious festivals of the People of the
    Book and other unbelievers on two grounds; (1): it represents a resemblance to the
    unbelievers and (2): these are acts of innovations. All such festivals and fairs which have
    come into vogue as a result of innovation are to be treated in the same way, whether these
    resemble the practice of the unbelievers or not.

  6. The pilgs were stuck on the Mayflower for some months while building a settlement, illness broke out among them. Some of the fruits and veg were new to them, but they knew how to grow things. Indians used cornstalks to hold up beans. The pilgs thought this was strange, but it is actually good farming.

    On the first Thanksgiving they were firing off guns, some Indians stopped by to see what the racket was and were invited to sit down and eat.

  7. This entire article is based on a faulTty premise: the fairy tale version of Thanksgiving that is promoted in American schools.
    The FACT is that the first declared “thanksgiving” was in 1635, to celebrate the previous night;s raid on the Pequot Indians, who were resting on the eve of their corn Festival (harvest celebration). They were attacked by English and Dutch settlers, who massacred them. Women and children in longhouses were burned and buried alive.
    Eventually the entire Pequot tribe was eliminated.
    A “Thanksgiving feast” was held after each of these raids. They became so frequent that 100 years later, President Washington declared that there would only be one such celebration each year.
    Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to be a national holiday the day before ordering a raid on an Indian settlement.
    It should be a fast day, not a feast day.
    I see no reason for Muslims to even want to buy into this hypocrisy.
    It’s not a religious celebration, per se, so I really don’t see why it should not be allowed, but in any case, it is immaterial whether or not it is.
    There are Christian sects that do not celebrate Christmas as a gift-exchanging day.
    Some religions separate themselves from the secular.
    I, being secular, separate myself from religion.
    To each his own.
    But I certainly would not try to co-opt or coerce anyone into pretending that one observance is equal to another.
    They tried that with Hanukah, and it really doesn’t work.

  8. No. This is canard history. Was discussed on other websites.

  9. The pilgs landed in 1620. They celebrated Thanksgiving Days. The Peqout massacre was in 1635.

    This type of history is based on whiteophobia, which is a constant effort to prove that the white race is the worst race and that its members of today are to blame for the sins of the past.

  10. The Pequod massacre was part of the Pequod war. Indians and white were killing each other. I see different dates given for it.

  11. salaam,

    i think you are the “true” face of islam. looks like some “muslims” even think food slaughered by zoroastrians may even be halal. what kind of craziness is this?

  12. @m2:

    Some Muslims, such as Shi’a in Iran, believe that Zoroastrianism may have been a Divine religion, so they include it with the religions of the book (i.e. Judaism and Christianity). Because the Qur’an says that food slaughtered by the People of the Book is considered halal, they believe that food slaughtered by Zoroastrians may be halal. However, I don’t know of any Qur’anic verse or hadith confirming Zoroastrianism is from Allah. In any case, just to be on the safe side, food slaughtered by Zoroastrians should be avoided.

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