BYU students reconcile different religious holiday traditions

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BYU student Karma Hammouz is a Muslim from Jerusalem. She came to Utah in fall of 2011 and found adapting to the LDS culture wasn’t hard.

Muslims eat foods like zucchini, grave leaves and meat to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and break their month-long fast of the Ramadan. (Photo by Raya Adaileh)
Muslims eat foods like zucchini, grape leaves and meat to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of their month-long fast during Ramadan. (Raya Adaileh)

“We’re really a conservative religion,” Hammouz said. “Almost as conservative as the LDS Church. It was more of a culture shock regarding American traditions more than the Church itself.”

Members of different faiths can, like Hammouz, adapt to culture shocks by getting to know people from other countries and cultures. Holiday traditions give insight into different people’s belief and worship.

WorldPopulationStatistics says 79 percent of Utah’s residents identify as religious. The nation’s average is 49 percent. While the LDS Church makes up about 69 percent of that 79, six percent of that 79 percent identify as Catholic. The remaining four percent includes other Christian denominations, Judaism, Islam and other Eastern religions.

The LDS faith might be the majority in Utah, but understanding other faiths’ holiday traditions and seeing common themes can help people adapt to differences.

Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions

Catholics celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25. They have a type of fast for 55 days before Easter and 45 days before Christmas. BYU student Makram Ibrahim was born into the Catholic faith but is a convert to the LDS Church. “(The fast) doesn’t affect them that much, but it actually helps (Catholics) enjoy their religion,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim converted to the LDS Church in 2009 in Switzerland. He moved to Utah more than five years after he’d been a member. He spoke of how his testimony developed and the adjustment to both LDS doctrine and culture.

“The Church tries to lead people to the light, not the blackness,” he said. “I felt the same thing, that the Mormons were trying to perfect their people by leading them away from the bad things.”

Ibrahim said Catholic traditions have changed a lot, and many people don’t fast anymore. “In Orthodox they have it very strictly, and they have a lot of similarities,” he said.

Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Jan. 7. They also fast before the holiday to think of others’ needs.

Protestant activities

Provo resident and Protestant Kimberly Taylor goes to the Calvary Mountain View Church in American Fork. All the traditions they keep are to remember and accept God, Taylor said.

Taylor attends a candlelight service on Christmas Eve to celebrate the light Jesus Christ brought into the world. She sings happy birthday to him and prays before opening gifts at home.

Taylor also collects items for the church’s program, Operation Christmas Child. They send shoebox-sized boxes to places like Africa, Iraq and developing nations. They also do a program called Angel Tree, where volunteers send gifts to the parents of prison inmates.

Taylor said she and other volunteers want to help people and follow God. “God is love, and we’re sort of like him,” she said. “We want to be like him. We want to give our love and give them hope when they don’t have it.”

Taylor has lived in Provo all her life and has been a Protestant since she was 5 years old.

She felt shunned from members of the LDS community she grew up with. “Some of the other parents found out I wasn’t LDS, (and) they wouldn’t let their kids play with me anymore,” Taylor said. “But I’ve managed. It’s OK.”

Being surrounded by Christians and members of her faith helped Taylor adapt culturally by accepting differences. “We pretty much celebrate the same holidays, but our beliefs are different,” she said. “I have a lot of friends that believe differently, and they know I do, but we just accept that we believe differently.”

Muslim holiday traditions

Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas, but Hammouz has enjoyed being a part of her Christian friends’ traditions on Christmas Eve.

Hammad Javed from the BYU Muslim Student Association said Christmas is more of a European and American tradition. “We have the greatest respect for Jesus Christ, but we believe he was born in March, not December,” Javed said.

For a month each year Muslims celebrate Ramadan and exercise self-control by fasting from sunrise to sundown.

Muslims break their fast once Ramadan ends with a three-day celebration, Eid al-Fitr. The celebration includes a feast and giving money and food to the poor. “It’s a whole month of holy activities, of comfort, because you’re connected with God,” Hammouz said.

Three months after the first Eid celebration, a second one, Eid al-Adha, commemorates the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Muslims sacrifice an animal, like a sheep, and split the meat among the poor, immediate family and other relatives. Hammouz said the holiday is almost as big as Christmas.

Ramadan and the first Eid are in the summer, when Hammouz is home. She celebrates Eid al-Adha in Provo.

“It’s different, but it’s a way to remember how you should always obey God because whatever he tells you to do, there’s always something good behind it,” Hammouz said.

Attending BYU with students committed to their religion has made Hammouz “feel more Muslim than ever,” she said.

“BYU is a peaceful place where people from all over the world feel like they can coexist and live peacefully together,” Hammouz said. “This definitely allowed me to celebrate my traditions and religious activities where people were quite interested to attend.”

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