On Dec. 25, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. Just before then, the Jewish community celebrates Hanukkah, the festival of lights.
The Islamic religious year is based on lunar months of 28 days, and thus on the Julian calendar, celebration days are on different dates in different years.
This year, the festival that occurs at the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca honors the sacrifice of Abraham. This is where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son to God, but God stopped him, and Abraham sacrificed a sheep instead.
Throughout the world, families of Islamic faith slaughter a sheep and celebrate with religious services, family gatherings and visits. They also give gifts to the poor (in Senegal, this usually is a large bag of rice, the diet staple, to the mosques for redistribution).
The day is called Eid-el-Fitr in Arabic, but in much of West Africa, it is called Tabaski. In Senegal this year, imams, priests and rabbis took advantage of the synchrony of dates to launch a religious dialogue for peace in a world full of conflicts. They adopted the following symbol.
The participants recognized their common heritage in Abraham, and the need for dialogue and cooperation for peace, brotherhood and humanity. The ambassador of Israel participated.
Senegal has a secular government, but its population is overwhelmingly Muslim. It has set an example for others to recognize the common heritage of the Abrahamic faiths, and to work together for common goals such as peace.
President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal has called for expanded dialogue, and for religious leaders to work for peace across faith boundaries.
While chairing a recent United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Organization conference of rabbis and imams, he stated that rabbis and imams have the duty to calm frustrations where politics stop. As president of the Organization of Islamic Conference, he wants to host in Senegal an inter-religious dialogue among the Abrahamic faiths. The American Jewish Committee has already met with him on this event.
The three faiths need to draw on the best of their history – such as the Christian King of Ethiopia – providing safety for the Prophet Mohammed, the prominent role of Jews in the Ottoman Empire and the recognition given Christians in the Koran, where they are termed as the “closest” to the Muslims in “love” (compared to all other groups). Also, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is honored in the Koran as, “a woman chosen above the women of all nations.’’
There are numerous areas of Africa where Christians and Muslims live peacefully together. They far outnumber areas of conflict, and President Wade’s efforts are to be commended.
Brad Brown is the first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is also a contractor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he works on African coastal and marine projects.