Tomorrow, 1.7 billion Muslims around the world will complete the four-day celebration of one of the two most important religious festivals in the Islamic calendar: Eid al-Adha. The proper greeting for the occasion is "Eid Mubarak!" which effectively means "blessed and happy Eid." I wish heartfelt Eid Mubarak to all fellow Muslims, especially the Blue Devil ones. Muslim majority societies celebrate this momentous event with over a week of public holiday observance. Everything shuts down during these days of celebration, and the rich spirit of the Eid al-Adha manifests itself through various religious rituals, cultural practices and more. As a part of these joyous celebrations, elders are visited and honored, kids are spoiled with tons of candies, money and gifts, the less privileged pockets of the societies are remembered and extended a hand of mercy and compassion. People who are not even religious often joyously take part in these Eid festivities and look forward to its arrival every year.
As a Muslim immigrant who grew up and lived in different Muslim majority societies, it is during these major religious festivals more than any other time that I am reminded of the minority status of my faith here in the U.S. If you live in a Muslim majority society, you don't have to do much in order to see the spark and joy of Eid. You just have to watch as it happens around you. It happens in such a large scale and involves pretty much everyone around you that you just get lost in the joyous atmosphere of Eid. My fellow Americans who have lived in certain parts of the world where Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter come and go seemingly without notice will understand how I feel and what I am trying to say here.
Yes, you try to organize so many events to celebrate Eid within your small communities, you go out of your way to make sure your children will feel at least a fraction of that Eid joy, you try to explain to them that this is our Christmas, but it is still not the same. They still have to go to school the day before and after. Most of their classmates do not take part in this celebration, and their parents have to squeeze Eid into their hectic work schedules. It takes so much out of the whole experience.
More importantly, these special days of observance and the celebrations of cultural, ethnic and religious minorities also often reflect that minority community's integration story to the rest of the society. In other words, these celebrations of minorities provide very helpful examples of that community's overall status with the rest of the society. Are they known, understood, respected, noticed or seen as equal? The way these religious and cultural festivals take place both in format and substance unveils the progress that minority community has made in seeing themselves as part of the larger society.
Despite 9/11 and post-9/11 realities which brought unique and worrying challenges to being a Muslim living in North America, Muslims living in this part of the world as a minority (thankfully) still do not face any major challenges or obstacles to practicing their religion or organizing themselves to observe their religious and cultural practices. Millions of Muslims have celebrated Eid al-Adha all around North America. Thousands of Muslim pilgrims traveled to Holy sites of Islam to perform their once-in-a-lifetime Hajj duty. Eid prayers are organized in almost all cities across the continent.
Watching yet one more Eid al-Adha passing by, though, I can't help but think we Muslims, with the help, understanding and support of our fellow citizens, have a long way to go to make these Eids as American as apple pie. Eid by and large remains something that Muslims do once or twice a year in their little silos. For a minority faith community that has been trying to carve out a respectable space within all civic and cultural milieus of American society, we should increasingly do a better job in indigenizing the markers of our religious identities. Yes, the larger society also has a role to play in these indigenizing efforts, but I think it is primarily our responsibility as Muslims to produce homegrown cultural and religious currencies to engrain ourselves into the social fabric of the society in which we live.
This minority-friendly melting pot continues to work and familiarize herself with the world of Islam and Muslims. As Islam and Muslims increasingly become as American as apple pie, and as the social and cultural tapestry of American society gets richer and more beautiful by incorporating including so many more colors and shapes, I hope and pray we are not too far off from adding Eid Mubarak to the list of popular American slang.
Eid Mubarak everyone !
This column was originally published in the Duke Chronicle. It has been reprinted with permission.