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The Muslim festival of Eid-al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice, fell during Thanksgiving weekend this year, just a day apart on Friday depending on which Mosque or group you associate with.

For those who may not be aware of this fact, people of the Islamic faith follow the lunar calendar in which the moon guides days of religious significance and its sighting, or lack of, can dictate whether or not festivals like the two Eids (the other one called Eid-Al-Fitr marking the end of Ramadan) are going to be observed. On occasion people in a town may observe the same festival on different days due to the leaders of the congregation that they are associated with.

This year when millions of turkeys were consumed during Thanksgiving in American households, a percentage of them were halal (the Muslim equivalent of kosher) and the spices used in their preparation were sometimes as distinct as the palates of the people who prepared them.

Besides mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce, it was not surprising to see hummus, biryani or Kabuli naan being served during the meal. Even cayenne pepper has become an important addition to the turkey recipe in some households and one has to admit that the results are not bad. And last but not least, pumpkin or apple pie are not alone at our Thanksgiving dessert tables because halwa and roshogulla are welcomed additions.

In spite of the many difficulties that American Muslims have had to face since the horror of 9/11 and the insanity of acts like the recent massacre at Fort Hood, with some adjustments, both immigrant and American-born members of the Islamic faith are sharing both culture and religion with their fellow Americans. And one of the ways they have been able to do some important outreach work is through their ethnic restaurants and food.

Just like Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis share restaurants while keeping their views of the world and each other separate from the realm of good food; our kids here are sometimes keeping in touch with their parents’ roots through the same medium.

During the festival of sacrifice, millions of sheep, goats, and even camels are sacrificed throughout the Islamic world every year to remember the intended sacrifice of Ismael by his father, the Prophet Abraham (replaced by a ram at the last minute). It is certainly a messy sight and not as sanitized as the turkeys we purchase from our grocery stores here. But it is a time when some very poor people get to eat well, as the meat is shared with the poor.

It is also a time of charity and goodwill, not unlike Christmas. The only drawback is if you are watching your weight—Thanksgiving and Eid together this year were enough for one to think vegetarian for a while.
In any case, a belated Eid Mubarak and Happy Thanksgiving!

—Ras Siddiqui

Ras Siddiqui is a South Asian writer and journalist based in Sacramento.

Sacrifice brings a deeper awareness and purpose

Perhaps some will think I have given up so much in taking sanyasa and going off to the underserviced, intermittent infrastructure of a rural village in Karnataka, especially coming from an American background of surplus, efficiency, and 24-hour electricity. However, the gains have been innumerable physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

From deprivation, difficulties, and sufferings, awareness of the Divine Consciousness permeating everything is often a surprising result. Living in a rural area, interacting with village people, taking care of cows and trying—sometimes it seemed in vain—to administer the vast 60 acres of the ashrama with the spiritual side of the mandir, the agricultural side of coconut fields, mango groves, paddy fields, ornamental gardens, when it seemed I knew very little, became a  thrilling experience of determination, wits, and perseverance.

It has also been a time of intense understanding of the deeply ingrained traditions both religious and cultural and a personal immersion in those traditions, seeing from where they have come and where they might go. India is a land of intensity, diversity, and multilevel experience in both its rural and urban settings.

Letting go, I became one with it and delighted with it and also perplexed at times by it. No matter the struggle by most for material development, progress, and expansion, the awareness of the Divine Consciousness in its multitude of forms, and the challenge to see the ultimate purpose of life that is the union with the Divine, is ever-present and pervasive in the midst of secularity, corruption, robbery, and deceit.
Working for the objectives of Badarikashrama, under the guidance of founder and president Swami Omkarananda has given me the chance to serve the less privileged across the globe, and has given me an incredible breadth of understanding of the nature of humanity. Through service one can use all ones abilities and talents and walk in all strata of society with dignity and self-awareness. Being accepted and part of every aspect of living whether it is in car mechanics, or schools, or the police department of the community hospital, or the many spiritual and religious centers, or in village events and agricultural work doesn’t happen that often.

In America, everything seems so segmented, juxtaposed against the organic quality of Indian life. It doesn’t matter if you have 24 hours of electricity, if you don’t have stable family life and meaningful spiritual/religious ideology and practices. More important, my experiences have shown me that working for something beyond one’s self, looking into the hearts of children and seeing their potential and spirit and the hope for humanity lying in their eyes is worth more than anything else life can give.

Wishes for a happy and prosperous 2010 for all

—Swami Mangalananda

Swami Mangalananda is secretary of Badarikashrama, in Madihalli, Karnataka. (510) 278-2444. 

Christmas observes the sacrifice of Jesus

At home, I have a beautiful picture of my mother whom I have never had the chance to see in person. I lost her when I was very, very young. I had often wondered if she could only just step right out of the picture and hold my hand to tell me, “Don’t be afraid! I am here to be with you” How many times I wished I could see her again in human skin?

A story is said about a little girl who was frightened at night during a thunderstorm. She cried out to her daddy, “Help me.”

Her dad said, “Honey, God loves you and will take care of you.”

Another bolt of lightning and clap of thunder caused the girl to cry out again, “Daddy!”

Her daddy gave her the same response, “Honey, God loves you and will take care of you.”

Frustrated, the girl replied, “Daddy, I know that God loves me, but right now I need someone with skin on.”
Someone did come 2,000 years ago with skin on to help all those who are frightened! It all started with the humble birth of baby Jesus in a little village called Bethlehem. The Creator came to His created ones to be seen, to be heard and to be touched. Mind boggling and yet true! He was born as a baby, lived among them and, then, died for them.

While He was on the earth He didn’t just talk about love, He loved. He didn’t just preach on forgiveness. He forgave. He didn’t just proclaim the necessity of justice and righteousness. He lived and died for the people to meet God’s justice and to become their righteousness. He was God’s love with skin on.  This incarnation of God goes beyond human comprehension! Why would God do this?

When the first parents plunged all of humanity into sin with their disobedience in the Garden of Eden, evil entered and plunged all of us who live in this world. To make things worse we have added our sins to theirs.

But God’s justice required that a payment be made for the penalty that sins require. And so, God sent Jesus to take it upon Himself. That is the story of Christmas.

But sadly, we have modified the importance of Christmas from Jesus to bright lights and completely missed the reality of the Light of the World. We enjoy the Christmas tree without worshiping the Savior who died on a tree. We have created this image of Christmas as buying and receiving gifts and missed the Giver of Life. We have created this image of Christmas with parties and social gatherings and have missed the reality of the baby born in the manager.

As someone put it, “Christmas is not a surrealistic image of what life might be like; it is the reality of the one called the Christ who stepped out to show us what life really is.” He stepped out in human skin.
Have a blessed Christmas.

—Pastor Ranjan Samuel

Pastor Ranjan Samuel is the founder Pastor of Christ Church of India, which has been serving the community for the last 20 years. (408) 234-0911.