More than 8,000 people poured through the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, Md., this morning in shifts for prayer and worship in celebration of Eid ul-Fitr – a celebration marking the end of a month of Ramadan fasting.
Clothed in colorful, embroidered robes, families from Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland cheerfully greeted each other, and later, in unison chanted songs of thanksgiving to Allah.
Joyful as they were, Muslims across the country consciously made this Eid celebration somewhat somber to show respect. The date of the holiday, which is determined by the lunar calendar, coincides with the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
"Brothers and sisters, now is your opportunity to show our brothers and sisters who are not Muslims, who we really are," said Mohamed Shmohamed, Imam of the Muslim Center in Silver Spring in his Eid sermon. "And the best way we can show them is through our manners, proper etiquette, and how we behave."
In the U.S., Muslim leaders have asked congregations to tone down their Eid celebrations in remembrance of the 9/11 victims.
"Family Day at Six Flags" which was originally scheduled for Sept. 11th was moved to Sept. 12th for many congregations, including Muslim centers in Chicago, Ill. and Silver Spring, Md.
The Seattle Times reported that the Imam Center in Kirkland, Wash., has canceled their celebrations, instead choosing to host an interfaith service with the Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church. And in California, the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno canceled the carnival they typically hold on the Saturday after the end of Ramadan, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Rather than gathering for food and fellowship on Sept. 11th, Imams are urging Muslims to spend the day reaching out to other religious communities.
"The true message of Islam is to know and love one another and to build peace, reconciliation and understanding among all people," said Imam Mohamed Erophat, president of the Islamic Affairs Council of Maryland.
"September 11th will be a day for Muslims to get together with [their] Christian friends, Jewish friends -- people from all walks of life in America to emphasize the need for unity in America," continued Erophat.
In addition to coinciding with the Sept. 11 anniversary, the Eid comes amid controversy over the planned construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero, and the actions of a small Florida church that earlier this week planned to burn Korans, a threat that attracted international attention.
President Barack Obama and General David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, both spoke out against the now-canceled "Burn a Koran Day," saying that burning Korans would place American troops in harm's way.
"One point five billion Muslims live by the Koran and the Koran had nothing to do with 9/11," said Shmohamed. "Muslims all over the world felt [the proposed Koran burning] was an insult to the faith."
Erophat said, "We cannot respond to someone wanting to burn the Koran by burning the Bible or the Torah. We should not let events like this to create a wedge between people."
Islamic leaders have also spoken out against the idea that Muslims are responsible for the September 11th tragedies.