Just what is Thanksgiving about, anyway? It commemorates exploitation, theft, and family; it’s a feast that bears little resemblance to the early feasts that the European newcomers and natives shared, and even less the literal Thanksgiving in Puritan tradition. It’s a tradition almost entirely created through lobbying and marketing, and produces a frenzy of shopping and cooking, and encounters with folk who you may or may not want to spend time with. And it’s a tradition that Americans are deeply fond of, warts and all.
There’s been some debate over whether Muslims should celebrate any holiday besides the eidayn; to that, my first and last response is “poppycock!”- that said, I’m also the woman who goes out to vote proudly wearing her American flag- patterned hijab, so I’m not unbiased. Arguments have been made that injunctions against extra holidays apply to religious and not cultural or national holidays, which is practical considering that no force on Earth would stop Iranians from celebrating Noruz, but larding the canonical calendar with saint’s days and commemorations of religious events would cause a bit of an issue fiqh-wise.
American Muslims will put a unique stamp on Thanksgiving. While many are home-grown, we have been blessed with the culinary richness of our immigrant brothers and sisters, and our faith tradition will challenge us to adapt and inspire us to borrow. Perhaps a Morrocan-influenced stuffing will grace the table, or a du’a will be developed for the occasion, to become a new tradition. The Thanksgiving culinary canon will expand to include alcohol and pork-free versions of standard fare. I’m still considering whether or not to jazz up this homemade eggnog, but the pull of tradition is especially powerful at this time of year.
But there are ethical issues with Thanksgiving that Muslims should be concerned with. Is it morally sound to completely ignore the ugly implications of celebrating what was, let’s face it, an invasion? Or does it make sense to ignore or denigrate a celebration that’s transformed into a feast of gratitude for God’s provision? Do we shuffle off blithely to the mega-mart to buy turkeys who endured grim conditions for the sake of tradition, or do we challenge factory farming somehow? How do we create a feast of love and family that honors the earth that yields the delectable treats we whip up and one another?
I offer no answers, for these are issues I’m still pondering. What I do know is this: I’m spending this day with family and friends both old and new. We will gather to celebrate the past , the present, and to committ ourselves to the future. The little one dancing beneath my belly button is heir to all of that, as are you. The way forward must be honest and respectful to the past and the future. As flawed as Thanksgiving is, it’s a humbling prospect to consider.