Jews and Muslims Share a Holy Week

This year -- 2014 in the Common Era (C.E.) calendar, 5774-75 in the Hebrew calendar, and the Islamic lunar year 1435-36 -- saw a coincidence between the Jewish and Muslim holy days. The 10 Jewish "Days of Awe" were observed from Rosh Hashanah on September 24 to the fast of Yom Kippur on the night of October 3-4. The Muslim observance of the Hajj pilgrimage commenced in Mecca on October 1-2 and the beginning of four days of Eid Al-Adha -- the "feast of sacrifice" at the end of the Hajj - was set on the same night as Yom Kippur, October 3-4.

In the "northern" Islamic tier between the Balkans and Central Asia, Eid Al-Adha is known as Kurban Bayram, a translation of "feast of sacrifice."

Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar reckoning that moves its dates in reverse when compared with the Common Era and Jewish days, Muslim holidays are observed earlier from year to year. Muslims in North America and Western Europe were expected to celebrate Eid Al-Adha/Kurban Bayram beginning on October 4-5. Since it is dependent on local moon sightings, Eid Al-Adha/Kurban Bayram was to be celebrated from Sunday, October 5-6, in North Africa, East Africa, and South Africa, and commencing on Monday, October 6-7, in Pakistan and India.

As noted in The Times of Israel, the coincidence of Yom Kippur and Eid Al-Adha/Kurban Bayram takes place only once every 33 years -- most recently in 1948 and 1981, as well as this year.

The Jewish and Muslim holy days contrast in some features. The days from Rosh Hashanah -- the Jewish New Year - to Yom Kippur -- the Day of Atonement -- come at the beginning of the Jewish annual cycle, while the Hajj month, Z'ul Hijjah, concludes the Islamic year. Yom Kippur is a fast day, while the four days of Eid Al-Adha/Kurban Bayram feature sacrifice and public distribution of meat to the poor, plus gift-giving to family members and friends. In various Muslim lands, including those in the Balkans, Kurban Bajram (in its local spelling) is considered a "Muslim Christmas" because of its festive atmosphere. Both Yom Kippur and Eid Al-Adha are universal holidays in the Jewish and Muslim communities, but the latter is centered on the rituals of the Hajj in Mecca.

In Jewish-Muslim interfaith terms, Yom Kippur and Kurban Bayram have, we may say, intertwined roots. A well-attested oral commentary (hadith) of Prophet Muhammad states that Muhammad had observed Jews in the city of Madinah refraining from food and drink, presumably on Yom Kippur, according to the hadith. The prophet was moved to approve the practice of fasting in Islam, aside from its observance during the month of Ramadan and in general, which is commanded by Qur'an (2:185).

Further, Eid Al-Adha/Kurban Bayram, with its killing of edible animals and distribution of meat, commemorates an element that, with a slight difference, is found in both Judaism and Islam. That is the "test" of Abraham, or Ibrahim for Muslims, when the creator ordered him to kill his one of his beloved sons. In Judaism the story involves Abraham's younger son Isaac (Ishaq in Islam). In Islam the offspring designated for slaying was Ismail (Ishmael in Judaism). Isaac is viewed as the ancestor of the Jews, and Ismail as the progenitor of the Arabs and Muslims.

In both religious narratives, Abraham/Ibrahim proved his trust in his Lord by accepting the command to kill his son, but God demonstrated mercy by staying the parent's hand before the child was to be slain.

Compassion in respect of the submission of Abraham/Ibrahim to divine will, the introspection of Jews on Yom Kippur, and the charity of Muslims on Eid Al-Adha/Kurban Bayram should contribute to better relations between the two monotheistic communities and their disparate neighbors. The Jewish "Days of Awe" and the Muslim Hajj offer opportunities for spiritual purification. Sadly, both Yom Kippur and Eid Al-Adha/Kurban Bayram arrived this year during continuing bloody confrontations in the Middle East.

The fasting of Yom Kippur and the rejoicing of Eid Al-Adha/Kurban Bayram are two sides of a common legacy. Faced with ongoing violence, the self-examination of Jews on Yom Kippur and the happiness of Muslims at Eid Al-Adha/Kurban Bayram stand in repudiation of bitterness, prejudice, and incitement. Yet the promise of both holidays seems to remain absent from the world.

Whether by refraining from food and drink for a day or distributing food to the needy, Jews and Muslims express their belief in the higher authority that set out practices and laws fit for humanity to live in mutual respect of each others' religious commitments.

On Yom Kippur, Muslims may wish Jews an "easy fast," thus honoring a ceremony that inspired Muhammad. On Eid Al-Adha/Kurban Bayram, Jews and others may wish Muslims a happy Eid.

Sprung from the loins of Abraham/Ibrahim, Jews and Muslims share too much to allow political differences to continuously drive them apart. Jews are a small community in the world and need recognition of their dignity. Muslims must fight the new eruption of radical ideology and its terrorist expression. Neither can afford to miss any opportunity for mutual courtesy, even if it is based mainly on a 33-year coincidence of dates.