A thoroughly British Eid – The Times

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Celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr, when Muslims mark the end of Ramadan, is an especial challenge for the Muslim convert, says Na’ima B. Robert

So another Ramadan has come and gone.

The last 10 days have been intense: a crazy schedule of simple iftars (snacks to break the daily fast), early bedtimes (going to bed with the children) and waking again after midnight to pray until suhoor time (the pre-dawn breakfast consumed before sunrise and the daily fast begins). We have been seeking Laylatul-Qadr, the Night of Power, a night that Allah says is better than a thousand months, the night the Qur’an was revealed by the Prophet to the Angel Gabriel (Jibril).

It is not known for sure when the Night of Power will fall each year – we are told by the Prophet (peace be upon him) that it occurs in the month of Ramadan, in the last 10 days, on an oddly numbered night. So we strive every year to pray and supplicate in the early hours of the morning, hoping to catch the Night of Power.

Some Muslims have prayed in their homes, reciting what they know of the Qur’an; others have attended the traditional Qiyam prayers in the mosque and prayed in congregation, standing for great lengths of time, often reduced to tears by the recitation of the imam and the prayers for forgiveness, thanks and continued blessings.

And along with the intense worship of the last 10 days, comes anticipation in the build up to Eid-ul-fitr, the great feast at the end of Ramadan. This time for rejoicing is looked forward to by millions every year, especially children. Eid is one day we are rewarded for enjoying ourselves!

However, in the UK, celebrating Eid is no simple matter, particularly for converts like me. For the majority of Muslims, Eid-ul-fitr consists of wearing one’s best clothes, spending time with family, and eating copious amounts of food. For Muslims with siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents and old family friends, the prospect of a day spent with family may be a welcome one but for a convert with no Muslim family, it may be a disappointing, isolating experience, particularly if there are no welcoming Muslims living nearby. Indeed, the nature of a family Eid is that is excludes those who are not within the family circle – thus leaving single converts to “fend for themselves”.

Unlike the familiar rituals of Christmas that most converts grew up with, stockings on Christmas Eve, the tree, the presents, the roast turkey and Christmas pudding, Eid presents a series of new and unfamiliar challenges. Aside from the congregational Eid prayer that is attended by Muslim families on the morning of Eid, there are no Muslim-wide practices for converts to adopt as our own. There are no Eid TV specials, no Eid sales in shops, no Eid singles (thank God for that!) – Eid is very much determined by one’s cultural heritage.

So if your background is not Muslim, you are left wondering just what you should do to celebrate this day. What should you wear? Where should you go? What should you eat? Should you stay at the mosque or go out? Or should you go to the Eid events organised by the Muslim community – the bazaars, fun days, exhibitions or Eid parties? All these can be great fun.

However, as I have mentioned before, the fact that the daily affairs of the country carry on regardless of the Islamic calendar means that even Eid is something that you have to squeeze in. If your children go to a state school, time off will have to be arranged and work holiday will have to be booked. In fact, the question of how to celebrate Eid if you are a convert takes on an added dimension if you have children, especially as they reach the age where they are aware of the hype surrounding Christmas. This puts parents under even more pressure to make Eid extra special so Muslim children do not feel that they are missing out. This requires creative thinking – outside the box – and meticulous planning.

Thankfully, the plentiful opportunities for fun family days in most parts of the UK are also a great option for Eid, as are picnics, museum trips and funfairs. Past Eids have seen us booking a country cottage in Wales and these hold such beautiful memories for us. So, what will I be doing this year? Well, so far we have planned decorations for the house, a treasure hunt for the children, complete with me in fancy dress, a moonlit dinner in a tent in the garden and then a mega party for my sisters and I – complete with canapés, ballgowns, party games and a trusty drum or two.

And with that, I will leave you to your Eid celebrations – or not, as the case may be. Until we meet again, peace…

From Times Online
September 30, 2008

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article4852628.ece

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