By Saamiya Seraj
“By the way, Eid Mubarak!” my neighbor waved at me as we finished our conversation and were going our respective ways.
I paused for a second, taken aback by the fact that he knew it was Eid. I’m not sure what my expression looked like at the time, but I must have had the biggest grin on my face. “Eid Mubarak!” I shouted back enthusiastically. My neighbor doesn’t know this, but he made my day.
Growing up in Bangladesh, Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr was one of my favorite times of the year, as it felt like an entire month dedicated to spirituality and community. For 30 days, instead of the usual hubbub of our daily lives, everyone was encouraged to pray, fast, think good thoughts, and do good deeds in their community. Offices closed an hour earlier each day to accommodate people’s spiritual endeavors, allowing families to break their fast and eat iftar together at sundown (iftar is the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan).
One of my favorite memories as a child is the feeling of love and peace that swept over me as our noisy extended family sat down together for iftar and enjoyed the delicious sweetness of that first gulp of water after a whole day of fasting. I also loved the rising excitement and anticipation in the last few days of Ramadan. As Eid approached, our house would be in a flurry of activity, with the scent of henna and shemai (fried vermicelli in sweet milk) thick in the air.
In contrast, Eid in America has always felt rather lonely and lackluster. Despite an estimated 3.45 million Muslims living in the US (Pew Research Center, 2018), in my experience, knowledge about Eid is not very common. Employers, universities, and colleges are required to make accommodations for religious holidays, but sometimes the hassle of taking the day off and switching around your meetings and other obligations can take away from the feeling of festivity. The pandemic heightened that feeling of disconnection, as many of us were unable to visit and celebrate with Muslim family members and friends or gather for communal prayers in mosques.
That day, as my neighbor walked away after wishing me “Eid Mubarak”, I wondered why after living in Mueller for nine years, I hadn’t really tried to reach out to celebrate Eid with my neighbors. If the feeling of community was what was missing in my Eid celebrations in the US, why hadn’t I tried to recreate it where I lived? The answer was simple, if I had the courage, to be honest. I was afraid to reach out. Years of living in the US had conditioned me to celebrate as quietly as possible. Perhaps, I was tired, too – tired of the explanations that had to follow the usual comments of “Oh! I’ve never heard of Eid before.” However, with a small but powerful gesture, my neighbor had shown me a glimpse of what it could be like to celebrate in the community and encouraged me to lean into my fear.
The next day, I posted on the Mueller Facebook group, asking neighbors if they wanted to celebrate Eid next year in the community, once the pandemic was over. I was still apprehensive, but perhaps I could find other Muslim neighbors like myself who were quietly celebrating Eid in their own bubble, not knowing there was someone else celebrating down the street from them.
My decision to post turned out to be really rewarding, as I realized from the responses that there were a lot of neighbors in Mueller celebrating Eid. Although each celebration and story were unique, they all shared a beautiful sense of joy and hope and new beginnings. And food – everyone’s celebration included lots of delicious food. After one month of fasting, that’s a given.
I wanted to give these unheard stories of diverse celebrations in our neighborhood a little more visibility and decided to write this article for the Mueller Front Porch Flyer. I hope seeing this will give another neighbor the push to speak up and connect with others or suggest a different celebration that we’re all missing out on.
After all, life is short and one can never have too many celebrations, right? I hope you enjoy all the pictures of our neighbors celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr this year. And if you see your Muslim neighbor during Eid next year, be sure to wish them “Eid Mubarak.” It might just make their day as it did for me.