|4th January 1998
Ate too much turkey during Christmas and drank too much champagne at the
New Year parties? Last year's Christmas and New Year holidays were our second in
New York, and, twice in a row, we did not have a white Christmas or snow for the
On Christmas day, after lunch, accompanied by two friends, Alan Brunken and Vincent
Low, I walked for two miles in Central Park on an unusually warm winter day: the
sky was clear (by New York standards, that is) there was no wind and there were many
New Yorkers and visitors doing the same thing.
There were many couples pushing their babies in a pram, strollers being pulled by
dogs on a leash, some dogs scampering around playing "fetch" with their
owners, joggers with their walkman and earphones oblivious to the activities in the
park and the strolling beautiful ladies in their fur coats wearing Jackie Kennedy-sunglasses
some accompanied but a few unescorted.
The three of us enjoyed watching people watching people! After breaking fast (we
began on Wednesday, Dec 30) we went out to a friend's house for the New Year's dinner.
The next morning Alan and Vincent and I repeated what we did on Christmas day. This
time around even more people were out watching people!
In New York, watching people is a big industry and some restaurants are known for
the opportunity they provide to watch famous people than for their fare and serf
vice. Reservations at the eateries - if you are lucky to get them - are at a premium.
They are normally congested while the noise level is acceptable, sometimes noisy
and, when in, you would have wished you had gone somewhere else. I never return to
some restaurants but for one, two or three excellent ones, you can't wait to go back
to, such is the attraction.
For many non-Christians, Christmas, although it has become a secular and commercial
celebration, can be an awkward situation especially for those with young children.
It could be a test of their sense of belonging in their adopted country as well as
their roots, for American converts to Islam, and other religions especially. For
interfaith families, it was a challenge as celebrations overlapped last year in the
case of Christmas and Hanukkah, a Jewish celebration of lights.
First, the dilemma of Muslim immigrants. What do you do when the whole of your neighbourhood
is beautifully lighted up for Christmas or the Hanukkah and when children ask for
their Christmas and Hanukkah presents? Children being children want gifts, otherwise
they would feel strange. Most parents for the sake of their children normally relent.
An Arab-Muslim friend, a banker, always gave whatever children wanted because he
did not want them to feel left out, but more importantly, he stressed, "they
are my kids. They will get whatever they want." He is practical as most Arabs
are when they are overseas; something frighteningly too pragmatic even by major basic
Islamic sanctions. That is another story.
In New York State there are now thousands of Muslims, and peoples of other faiths
are slowly recognizing their presence if not the significance of Islam. I told my
Jewish and Christian friends that Islam, Judaism and Christianity share many things.
All three are religions of the Book which believe in one God, originated in the Middle
East and consider Jerusalem a holy sanctuary. As a Muslim, I believe Jesus (Nabi
Isa) as a major prophet and Muslims also have to uphold the Injil or Bible, the untampered
Old Testament, the original Alkitab.
My friend, Dr. M. T. Mehdi, an Iraqi-American, the secretary-general of the National
Council on Islamic Affairs of New York, and a crusader for Islamic recognition in
New York and the United States, said he has had some successes and believes more
concessions would be made as the Muslim population increases.
Mehdi told the New York Daily News (Dec 1) that: "I am on a crusade to make
the Muslim symbol as common as a nativity scene in Brooklyn. We believe that this
is making an open society more. The Empire State Building decoration is surely a
7-foot-by- 5-foot statement that a new ingredient has keen pitched into the melting
pot, but it wasn't the symbol's first appearance. It already debuted this month at
the Grand Central Terminal and the Long Island Road's Pennsylvania Station waiting
room." The crescent and star is a statement of pride for the Arabs.
The crescent signifies the shape of the moon on the first day of the Muslim lunar
calendar. The star is what Arabs depended on to find their way through the desert.
Mehdi stressed there is no religious significance to the symbol of the crescent and
star. Said he: "This is strictly secular. Islam does not have religious symbols."
Mehdi explained that the faithful put their trust in the belief of "Allahhu
Akbar - God is the greatest."
With an estimated 800,000 Muslims in the New York region behind him, New Yorkers
soon might see the first smooch under the crescent and star.