Empowering people through education and engagement

Memorial Day 2014

Azher Quader

Azher Quader, President, CBC

It was Memorial Day yesterday . For most of us here in Chicago enjoying a balmy 80 degree day with kids playing soccer and the grown ups  feasting around  their barbecue grills, seemed like the day was simply meant to erase the memory of yet another bone chilling winter that appeared never to end. Indeed this one was the coldest and the snowiest winter we have ever had, according the historians of the state.

But of course Memorial Day has its own history and its very special significance. For many of us new immigrants, sometimes the importance of these national holidays escapes our imagination partly from our ignorance of such historic traditions and partly from our mixed loyalties as well. At Community Builders we try often to raise these issues not only to promote civic engagement but also to cultivate  good citizenship. So for those who may not know here is the brief story on Memorial Day.

Memorial Day, falls on the last Monday of May every year, and honors the men and women who died while serving in the American military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War when the graves of soldiers who died in the Civil War were decorated with flowers. Some 700,000 are estimated to have perished during the Civil War, more than all lives lost from all the wars combined that Americans have since been engaged in. It became an official federal holiday in 1971 to honor the lives of all Americans who died fighting for their country from the battles of World War 1 and 2 to the more recent engagements in Vietnam,  Afghanistan and Iraq.

Today, many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting the graves of loved ones, holding family gatherings, and cook outs and participating in parades. At Arlington National Cemetery near Washington a flag is posted on each soldier’s grave.  Unofficially, at least, it marks the beginning of summer, the end of school years and the start of summer breaks.

This is therefore a very somber day commemorating the sacrifices of millions of Americans who took up arms in defense of their country’s cause and in so doing gave their lives, paying the ultimate price. Some may dispute if these were always just causes, but that is irrelevant to the discussion and cannot reduce one bit  the enormity of their sacrifices. They responded to the call when it was a call to save the union and free the slaves here at home. They responded to a call again when it was to stop the scourge of fascism in Europe and free the Jews from their death camps,  and they responded yet another time when they were asked to push back the spread of communism in the far off jungles of South East Asia. Today they are being asked to once again pay the price, to fight in the defense of our peace and security, this time to wage a war on terror, against an enemy they can neither see nor confront, nor contain. And while we play and feast in comfort, they sadly come back in body bags each day.

As we pay homage to these brave souls of today, let us not forget the heroes of another time who gave their lives on the battlefields of Badar and Uhad some fourteen centuries ago, to free mankind  from the tyranny of oppressive beliefs, inhuman traditions and self serving idol worship. As enormous a sacrifice as they made in defense of a faith that gave us such pillars of belief as ‘tauhid’, ‘akhira’, ‘adl’ and ‘rahma’, ideals that changed the course of human history, how sad it is that we have managed to reduce that same glorious faith to the petty religion of halal and hilal that we practice today. Never mind the call for submission to the One, we now delight in submitting to the many, never mind the concern for the Day of Reckoning, we delude ourselves in living for the day, and never mind the warning for being just and compassionate, we bomb our own people, we torch our own neighborhoods, we pass mass convictions without due process.

As we honor the memory of those who gave their lives to save our country from being divided and who died so we may live to enjoy the fruits of freedom and security at home, let us also remember to say a silent prayer for those who fought and died to preserve a faith that we have inherited, that someday we hope will  transform the lives of Muslims the world over, for the better.

“Wo aik sajda jise  tu giraan samajhtha hai

Hazaar sajdaon se detha hai aadmi ko nijaath”


That one submission (to the Divine Will) you consider so difficult to make

Liberates man from the myriad other submissions he would otherwise make


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