Bitter Thanks

This Thanksgiving, I will keep bitter thoughts from tagging along with my genuine thanks.

BY: Hala Shah

 

All too often during

Thanksgiving

, my husband and I crack when arguing over whose house to stuff our stomachs in. Choosing a family to celebrate Thanksgiving with is not an argument over whose gravy has the least lumps, whose turkey is most tender, and which potatoes - whipped or mashed - are the best. It becomes a tit for tat battle that drags out a record of who went where, when, and why. We become convinced that the scales must be perfectly balanced for us to be happy.



Now why, as a

Muslim

, would I want to bring myself into this mess of a holiday? I am not religiously motivated to celebrate it. What motivates me and many other Muslims to celebrate is to give thanks. All religions are intended to create selfless, thankful people. Thanksgiving can rekindle the selfless nature in us that, ironically, likes to selfishly take vacations during the holiday season, leaving us as self-centered people suffering from too much Turkey-induced tryptophan.

As a Muslim who celebrates Thanksgiving every year, I understand the dangers of thank you's that hide selfish motivations. Islam teaches me that my thank-you's to God are not favors to Him. When saying thanks to God, I cannot secretly be saying, "Hey, I am thanking You, so give me more to be thankful for." If I do that, I negate my thanks.

Last Thanksgiving, I caught myself trying to tag onto my prayers a "Thank you for Thanksgiving with my family this year, BUT I am going to miss them when I switch next year and celebrate it with my husband's family." Now, I love my husband's family and am close to all its members. I always enjoy celebrating holidays with them and have no grievances. But I have a soft spot for my family's way of carving a robust bird, my family's inside jokes, and my family's favorite way to moan about stuffed bellies as we unbuckle belts and spread out on the sofas and floor.

In these moments, I call on my Egyptian heritage. Even more dangerous then receiving the

evil eye

from someone else, is receiving the evil eye from oneself. Although I don't need an Egyptian blue "eye" stone hanging around my neck to protect me, what I do need is to give thanks for my blessings, and to ask God for protection from becoming envious of myself later if these blessings are no longer active.



I am thankful for having spent Thanksgiving with my family last year. But I will not be envious of that blessing as I celebrate the holiday with my husband's family this year. Being with people who love you, and you love too, is a blessing in itself.

In Islam, the mother is extremely important in the family. There is a Hadith, reported by Abu Hurairah, that a person came to the Prophet Muhammad and said: "Who among the people is most deserving of a fine treatment from my hand?" The Prophet Muhammad said: "Your mother." The person again asked: "Then who (is the next one)?" The Prophet Muhammad said: "Again it is your mother (who deserves the best treatment from you)."

The person asked: "Then who (is the next one)?" The Prophet Muhammad said: "Again, it is your mother." The person again asked: "Then who?" And the Prophet Muhammad said: "Then it is your father."

Since the mothers in families are so important, and often there are several mothers in holiday gatherings - mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law - who then is permitted to choose which of the mothers will receive the company of her entire family? For families that do not celebrate together, the decision can feel like an election with candidates vying for everyone's company.

I remind myself every Thanksgiving that there are no thanks, there is no selflessness in being a bitter campaign manager. May the right mother for that Thanksgiving win the prize of having to shoo out all the members of her family from her cramped kitchen as she roasts, fries, or grills her turkey!

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