Detroit area Muslims, Jews help others on holy days
An assortment of gifts piling up near Mariam Kandil’s door signifies much heading into Eid al-Adha.
The Muslim holiday starts Wednesday night, commemorating the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God and coincides with hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Muhammad. Over several days, followers focus on charitable acts and exchanging presents.
But for many recently arrived Syrian refugees in Metro Detroit, celebrating while adjusting to a new country can be challenging. So, Kandil and others are collecting toys as well as a gaggle of goods to present to children at a party Saturday at Beverly Hills Academy.
“This is just our small way of hopefully bringing smiles to their faces and welcoming them to America,” the Franklin resident said. “The holidays are usually a time spent with family and friends. A lot of them have lost loved ones. This is a new place for them. This a chance for them to get to know each other and meet the locals and a chance for us to give back and help out.”
Helping others is on the minds of many during Eid al-Adha as well as Yom Kippur, considered the holiest day for Jews, which began Tuesday evening and lasts through nightfall Wednesday.
Besides fasting, praying and attending services at synagogues, Metro Detroit Jews have an opportunity to help out globally during the holiday. New York-based HIAS supports refugees and displaced people around the world, while the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief is raising money to aid refugees and migrants in Europe and the Middle East, officials said in a statement this month.
On Sunday, an estimated 150 volunteers helped out another way: joining seniors for Temple Israel of West Bloomfield Township’s 18th annual Kever Avot program. Honoring a centuries-old custom tied to the days surrounding Yom Kippur, the effort brought older residents at assisted-living facilities and elsewhere to cemeteries in the region where they visited loved ones’ graves.
Paired with volunteers for the day, the participants received donated flowers, prayer books and tokens to accompany them on a “pleasant experience of remembrance,” said Kari Provizer, director of Temple Israel’s Robert Sosnick Family Life Center.
“Traditionally, the time between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is a time that you would go and visit your loved ones. It’s a time you remember your loved ones. So this fits with that,” she said. “For the volunteers, we call Kever Avot the mitzvah of a lifetime because to give of yourself and do a good deed at this time of the year — it’s a double mitzvah.”
For longtime volunteer Shoshana Rubenstein of West Bloomfield, participating has become as much a yearly Yom Kippur tradition as synagogue visits and family gatherings.
“I always thought that sharing is the true meaning of Yom Kippur: when we can take something we feel, something in our heart and … give that back to others,” she said. “Until I started doing that, I never really was conscious of how many people didn’t even have that opportunity — that very basic piece of getting to the cemetery. They’re very, very grateful, just that they were able to be there. … There’s great satisfaction in knowing that.”
Giving back also guides Eid observances.
Charitable acts remain a pillar of Islam, and the holiday includes “the most beloved days to God for performing pious deeds,” said Shaykh AbdulKarim Yahya, resident scholar with the Beacon Foundation, an educational nonprofit based in Metro Detroit.
“At times of heightened reflection and focus on one’s relationship with God, charity becomes more important — particularly when we’re facing some of the crises, like the refugee crisis, that we are. I know many of the hearts and minds will be on offering assistance and food or other types of assistance to brothers and sisters wherever they be in the world.”
Besides promoting ongoing efforts aimed at aiding resettled refugees, the Michigan Muslim Community Council continues its annual initiative to raise money for sacrificing lambs, which produces more than 30,000 pounds of meat that mosques, community centers and other groups distribute to about 1,000 families throughout the region, said Mouhib Ayas, vice chairman of the board.
“Basically everything we collect gets distributed to someone who needs it,” he said. “The most important thing is to help people who are in need.”
The efforts come as the national Council on American-Islamic Relations has noted instances of what leaders call anti-Muslim sentiment, including comments from Republican presidential candidates. The Michigan chapter said its members met Monday with Department of Justice officials to request a federal investigation into a recent denial of a proposed mosque in Sterling Heights after “hateful opposition.”
While Islam calls for charitable acts, those efforts can help counter negativity as well as strengthen community ties, said Muzammil Ahmed, board chairman with the Michigan Muslim Community Council.
“We have to prove our worth in our actions,” he said. “America has been great to many of us. It is our home and we really want to give back and we really want to make sure our communities are thriving and are a valuable part of the state. … So we know we have to make sure that we are contributing to the state getting better.”
Between gift-giving and enjoying biryani as well as other traditional dishes with relatives at large festive meals, Eram Uddin and her husband plan to have a charity handle sacrificing a sheep and then later distribute some of it to people in need.
The mother of three from Northville is grateful for the spiritual reminder: “that everything we have is all a blessing from God,” she said.
“The sacrifice is one way of thanking God and also to help those in need. Nothing we have necessarily belongs to us. It’s all from God, so we should share what we have.”