On Thanksgiving Day be sure to pass the halal turkey and top the sweet potato casserole with pork-free marshmallows because Muslims from all across the 50 states will be sitting down to a meal on Thursday during this most American of holidays.
“Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays,” said Shauna Merbouhi, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Now, having lived in Morocco for the past seven years, she still finds ways to mark the day even in a country where it is not celebrated.
“Even here in Morocco I celebrate with family and other Americans,” she said. “It’s hard to find all the fixings but we make do.”
Merbouhi, like thousands of other American Muslims, sees no reason not to celebrate the holiday. Many Muslims, those born into the faith and those who converted, spend the day with family or have special gatherings with friends. However, Thanksgiving can be especially important to converts like Merbouhi, who grew up with memories of family gatherings around a turkey-topped table.
“After I converted I didn’t feel like I had (to stop celebrating),” Merbouhi said. “The holiday has nothing to do with religion, and as Muslims, we are taught to be thankful every day. I know there are some (converts) who no longer celebrate it, but I will continue with my holiday and will not give it up. I did that with Christmas and Easter and, for me, that’s enough.”
Melissa Louis, who converted to Islam 12 years ago and lives near Portland, Oregon, also takes advantage of the holiday to spend time with her family, often sitting down to a meal with her parents and grandparents. She said she has also spent some Thanksgiving days helping serve meals to the homeless.
For Louis, researching Islamic rulings regarding celebrations was something she took seriously and familiarized herself with before she committed to Islam and before marrying her husband.
“It was something we (my husband and I) talked about and read about together before getting married, and something I had researched before even converting,” she said.
Merbouhi said she believes the familial aspects of Thanksgiving such as sharing a meal and spending time with loved ones are important and encouraged tenets of Islam.
“We are told not to break our family ties,” she said.
Sheik Luqman Ahmed, imam and executive director of Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center in Sacramento, California, agreed with Merbouhi’s opinion, and said spending time with one’s family is one of the primary reasons Muslims should not fear celebrating Thanksgiving.
In an article for MuslimMatters.org, Ahmed said,
“It would be grossly irresponsible to say that Thanksgiving or any observance of it is prohibited, because to do so is to say that people gathering to eat, to be amongst their family and loved ones and to express their thanks to God is an abomination and something that angers God.”
However, other Muslims take a different view of the day and choose not to take part in the festivities. Some, of course, have argued that Muslims should not recognize any holidays save for the two Eids for fear of imitating non-Muslims. Others take great offense at the history behind Thanksgiving, saying it is a reminder of the barbaric treatment of Native Americans at the hands of white settlers.
“How (settlers) slaughtered the natives is nothing to celebrate,” said Sami Amir, who lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Although Louis does not subscribe to Amir’s view, she does bemoan how Thanksgiving, like many other American holidays, has become more and more commercialized over the years.
“I’ve seen lots of changes just in my lifetime and seen it turn from originally being a day where nearly every business was closed to a major shopping day for a lot of businesses, and I think that’s pretty gross,” she said.
However, Louis said she has noticed some retailers have stayed the course and do not open their doors on Thanksgiving. She said she appreciates their closed-door holiday policy even if it means missing out on some bargains.
“I would never want to participate in buying cheaper socks or toys at the expense of others having to work on a day when they shouldn’t have to.”
First Published: November 2014