Last year I did not enjoy Ramadan. I was on service in the intensive care unit, and so, rather than being at home with my family, most of the time I broke my fast on graham crackers and chocolate milk in the ICU.
This year has been different. I made sure my schedule was free so to enjoy the month of fasting and its blessings. I was able to leave early enough from work to make it home to break my fast with my family, and I thank the Good Lord for His blessing me with an easier schedule.
Another great feature of Ramadan this year is that the end of the month coincides with Thanksgiving, and few things can be more fitting. The festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, or "Feast of the Breaking of the Fast," is a time of happy celebration after completing a major pillar of Islamic ritual pratice. On that day, Muslims praise God for His guidance and thank Him for giving them the opportunity to witness another Ramadan during which they are showered with enormous reward and blessings. In addition, Eid is a time to spend the day with family and friends and is a joyous occasion for Muslim children who frequently get gifts and other goodies. And the best part about Eid is this: I get to have my coffee in the morning again! Like Eid, Thanksgiving is also a day where people gather together with family and friends to give thanks to the Lord for His innumerable blessings.
Growing up, my family frequently would get together on Thanksgiving Day for dinner. We would not "celebrate" the holiday, per se, but we were all off work, and so it was convenient to have dinner together. Furthermore, we ate turkey because it was on sale at that time.
Now, there was a time in my life when I swayed by the views of some Muslims who believe we should not celebrate Thanksgiving because it is a holiday of "non-Muslims." As I have grown older, I have come to take strong issue with this. I see absolutely nothing wrong with Muslims celebrating Thanksgiving, turkey and all. Islam embraces the cultural traditions of any people as long as they do not conflict with Islamic principles.
Thus, Halloween, a holiday that I believe is based on idol worship, is out. Of the myriad of American holidays, however, few are as much in harmony with Islamic principles as Thanksgiving. Islam continually stresses the importance of thanking God for His gifts and blessings. The Lord has given us so much, and it is only fitting that we take the time to thank Him. The Qur'an says, "Remember! Your Lord has declared, 'If you are grateful, I will add more (favors) unto you." (14:7), and many a verse asks, after enumerating the many gifts of God, "Why do [human beings] not thank Me?" Thanksgiving is a day to do just that. To be sure, God does not need our thanks, but how could we be so ungrateful as to not thank Him? In fact, every day should be Thanksgiving, because every day we live and breathe God's wonderful gifts.
Thanking God should be much more than simply saying, "Thanks, Big Guy." We must show our thanks in our actions. For example, since God has blessed me with being a physician, I should thank God by not only saying, "Thank you," but also by helping others achieve their dream of getting into medical school. An even better way for me to show my thanks is to use my medical skills to help those who are less fortunate, such as donating money to or volunteering in a free medical clinic.
As Thanksgiving Day approaches, we all should take time to reflect on everything God has blessed us with. So true is that Qur'anic statement: "And He gives you all that ye ask for. But if you count the favors of God, never would you be able to number them" (14:34).
We human beings are quick to say, "Why me?" whenever something bad happens to us, but we rarely ask the same question when good fortune befalls us. I hope and pray that our reflection this Thanksgiving season will spur us to show our thanks to God by working to make our country and our world a better place for all.