NEW YORK - A New York imam has declared that he will start a campaign on April 22 to make the April 26 birthday of the Muslim prophet Muhammad a national holiday celebrated by Muslims and people of other faiths.
Mohammad Abdul Qayyoom, head of the Muhammadi Community Center in Jackson Heights in the NYC borough of Queens, published a copy of the petition via the center's Facebook page to be signed by other religious leaders. The interfaith initiative asks for an establishment of April 26 as a federal holiday, "so that we can enjoy this day like the joy of Christmas."
"One good thing [about] this country are celebrations," Qayyoom told The Christian Post Wednesday. "We have many celebrations -- we have Christmas, we have the Valentine's Day, we have Halloween, we have many many traditions."
Muslims would like to have one day as a holiday in the United States, Qayyoom told CP. And that would be April 26. The date was proposed because it is the day historically recognized as the day the prophet Muhammad was born in 570 A.D., the imam said. The Muslim calendar, following the lunar calendar, makes celebrating most holidays (like Ramadan) tricky in relation to the regular calendar, as they are movable, therefore celebrating that historical date seems reasonable, he claimed in the statement.
Members of the Muhammadi Community Center have been considering this plan since the center was established in 2005, Qayyoom told CP. It is meant as an initiative that would unite the community and invite people of all faiths to celebrate together, he emphasized.
"Because Prophet Muhammad said, 'I am not the prophet of only Muslims. I am the prophet of all human beings,'" the imam told CP.
Qayyoom has also turned to local religious leaders, including the president of a local Jewish center and leaders of a local Catholic church, he said. The proposal will be addressed to local governemnt officials.
There are 11 federal holidays in the United States currently. Any constituent can theoretically suggest to any senator or representative that a new federal holiday be created and any member of Congress can introduce legislation that would do so.
The office of Democratic Rep. Joseph Crowley of the 7th District -- in which the Muhammadi Community Center is located -- confirmed with The Christian Post Wednesday that it is possible to initiate such a process by writing a proposal and sending it to the local congressman, either at the local office or in Washington D.C.
There are over 50,000 Muslims living in Queens county, according to some estimates.
Muhammadi Community Center is an institution involved with its community and hosts various open events, like the Free Legal Clinic for the Jackson Heights Community.
The official start of the campaign will be announced during a celebratory event at the Jackson Heights center on April 22, Qayyoom told CP.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about Qayyoom's initiative. Abdul Karim Bangura, Professor of Research Methodology and Political Science at Howard University, is skeptical about the chances such an initiative might have.
Qayyoom is free to exercise his constitutional right to lobby the lawmakers, he told CP via email, however, "whether or not the United States is ready for this is another issue altogether. My belief is that it is not going to happen."
Bangura, who is also a Researcher-In-Residence on Abrahamic Connections and Islamic Peace Studies at the Center of Global Peace at American University, also said he thinks the prophet Muhammad's birthday should not take priority as a national Muslim holiday.
The professor suggested that Muslims should be more concerned with getting a national holiday for Eid-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan and a month of fasting for adherents, or Eid-ul-Adah, the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, known as Hajj.
"I am also afraid that by making the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) a national holiday, Muslims are edging toward what the Prophet (PBUH) had cautioned us against: that is, not to put him on a pedestal and begin to worship him, as he was only a messenger of Allah (SWT) who we should worship," he added.