The United States is not the only country with a “Thanksgiving” celebration. Personally, I do not view Thanksgiving as a religious holiday—at least not one that is specific to Islam or Christianity (or any other religion). Instead, I view it as an opportunity to express gratitude and to connect with friends and family. This year I have three celebrations planned: “Friendsgiving” with other American Muslims (mostly converts), an inter-faith worship service with the Bloomington Multi Faith Alliance, and a homemade feast with my teenagers on the actual day of Thanksgiving.
In the US, Thanksgiving is always the third Thursday in November. During the pandemic, my family developed a new tradition of having a turkey plus one special food chosen by each person. Last year, we had mashed potatoes with gluten-free gravy, sauteed green beans, apple crisp, and homemade chai with ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and star anise. It was delicious.
There is also a Canadian Thanksgiving, which is celebrated on the second Monday in October, a date chosen in 1957. This is separate from the date for the American Thanksgiving which was chosen by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War. In a proclamation published in Harper’s Weekly, Lincoln noted:
The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensitive to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.
He urged Americans to use the holiday not only to celebrate, but to pray that God might “heal the wounds of the nation.” To me, that message seems equally important today.
Although I grew up being told that Thanksgiving was a “pilgrim holiday” which I now see as connected to colonialism, white supremacy, and the erasure of indigenous cultures—and I know people who refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving for that reason—I find it personally meaningful to celebrate something with non-Muslims. While some converts gather with their families of origin for Christmas (or even Easter), I choose not to. It is not my religion. I also feel like many Christmas celebrations have become overly materialistic. Thanksgiving, however, I can get behind! I love to eat. I love indigenous foods like turkey, pumpkin, and corn. I am thankful to Allah for clean water, good food, and the companionship of friends and family. I pray for all people to live in peace and to have patience and compassion for one another.
Abu Huraira, one of the Prophet’s companions (peace and blessings be upon them), narrated a hadith about eating and gratitude:
A grateful eater is equal to a patient fasting person.
حَدَّثَنَا يَعْقُوبُ بْنُ حُمَيْدِ بْنِ كَاسِبٍ، حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ مَعْنٍ، عَنْ أَبِيهِ، وَعَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ الأُمَوِيِّ، عَنْ مَعْنِ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ، عَنْ حَنْظَلَةَ بْنِ عَلِيٍّ الأَسْلَمِيِّ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ أَنَّهُ قَالَ “ الطَّاعِمُ الشَّاكِرُ بِمَنْزِلَةِ الصَّائِمِ الصَّابِر”
I have experienced both “fasting with patience” and “eating with gratitude” and I find them both valuable. While I respect Muslims who do not celebrate American Thanksgiving, to me this holiday serves as a bridge between my religious values and my culture. I am both Muslim and American at the same time.
Dr. Heather Akou is an associate professor of Fashion Design in the Eskenazi School at IU. She is also the faculty sponsor of IU Muslim Women, a member of the advisory board for Muslim Voices Public Scholarship Project, and co-director of the Bloomington Multi Faith Alliance.