Houston Chronicle: Middle East turmoil weighs heavy as local Muslims gather for Eid

Middle East turmoil weighs heavy as local Muslims gather for Eid

Imam exhorts 15,000 area Muslims gathered to mark Eid: ‘Let us endure as they endure. Let us advocate for peace’
By Allan Turner
July 28, 2014 | Updated: July 28, 2014 11:50pm

Houston-area Muslims come together at NRG Park on Monday to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

The pall of Middle East violence Monday cloaked the normally joyous Islamic celebration of Eid al-Fitr as an estimated 15,000 area Muslims packed two exhibit halls at NRG Park for the conclusion of the monthlong Ramadan observance.

In a sermon that sounded familiar Ramadan themes of self-denial and the virtue of following “the call of our Lord,” Imam Zaid Shakir offered a passionate denunciation of the “torture and abuse and horrific violation of human rights” in the Gaza Strip.

“They can demolish a hospital, but they cannot demolish people’s desire for peace,” Shakir said. “Palestine will be healed by the grace of our Lord. Brothers and sisters, let us endure as they endure. Let us advocate for peace. They deserve a stronger effort for peace in Syria, in Iraq. We need to ensure that lands are never invaded and occupied by armies from the land we live in. We need 10 million Muslims in the United States of America who will say. ‘I’m not going to study war anymore.’ ”

Shakir, a former interfaith chaplain at Yale University and co-founder of Berkeley, Calif.’s Zaytuna College, the nation’s first four-year Islamic university, spoke at the annual citywide Eid observance sponsored by the Islamic Society of Greater Houston. His remarks came as a Ramadan lull between Israeli and Hamas combatants ended in Gaza with bloodshed on both sides.

More deaths

At least 10 were killed Monday when explosions rocked a children’s playground in a Gaza City-area Palestinian refugee camp. Additionally, explosions occurred near a Gaza hospital. In Israel, a rocket attack killed as many as four. The three-week conflict has killed more than 1,100 Palestinians, 48 Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a televised speech admonished his countrymen to prepare for a protracted conflict.

“Israeli citizens cannot live with the threat from rockets and from death tunnels – death from above and from below,” Netanyahu said, according to the New York Times.
Shakir’s comments Monday were greeted with applause. “All of that is true,” one worshiper told a reporter as he edged past in the crowd.

“Something is not right in Palestine,” said another worshipper, Anis Yousuf. “We want to live in peace with all of our neighbors. We’re not problem neighbors – maybe some of us are – but we are very peaceful people.”

Muslims gather to celebrate Eid al-Fitr on Monday at NRG Park. The event brought an estimated 15,000 worshippers. One attendee expressed appreciation for “every gift from the Lord.”
Eid marks the end of a monthlong period of daily fasting, prayer and introspection that commemorates the time during which the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.

Much of Shakir’s sermon consisted of traditional religious admonitions that would have been familiar to a Baptist congregation. He bemoaned a world “gone askew” where people had “rejected the guidance of almighty God” in pursuit of material goods.

“Muslim people respond to the will of God,” Shakir said. “The willingness to heed that call unleashes the potential to overcome our nature.”

During Ramadan, he said, “in every nook and cranny people gathered in peace and security praising the Lord. Even in areas of conflict. Even as bombs dropped, angels descended. Without fear of bombs and shrapnel, they descended. We showed the angels during the great day of Eid that Muslims, coming together in all their diversity, to show the angels that peace is possible – but only if we transcend our nature. We can only transcend our nature when we follow the call of our Lord.”

‘Clearing the soul’

Worshippers, seated in separate areas by gender, filled the exhibition halls. Along a back wall, children played on inflatable plastic slides as their elders bowed in prayer.

“Your soul feels like you are closer to your creator,” one worshipper, Kazi Jalali, said of his Ramadan. “You’re trying to get your soul cleaned up. You give to charity. In the 30 days, I never thought bad ideas. I never lied, and usually we do. It’s all about clearing the soul.”

Added Mohamed El-Beheary, who attended the event with his 8-year-old son, Seif, “During Ramadan, you think of the poor people of other countries, Palestine, the war … and you pray. You thank God, and appreciate every gift from the Lord.”

By the numbers

3 weeks

How long the Gaza war has been going on

At least 1,100

Number of Palestinians killed, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza

At least 48

Number of Israeli soldiers killed


Number of Israeli civilians killed

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