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Eid al Adha: What it Means to Me

My fondest memories of the Eid are the summertime celebrations in the park.  Since the vast majority of the families that attended my masjid were only first, second and third generation Muslims, home visits did not characterize the celebration of Eid, as they do in many other communities.  Eid celebrations were special in that they provided those without Muslim family members an opportunity to establish a tradition around a community gathering. To this day, I have never celebrated an Eid at my grandmother’s house. For many African Americans, the Eid feast was a deliberate communal celebration.

At these gatherings, there were toys and prizes, singing, boat rides, pony rides and lots of food.  Members of the mosques with restaurants donated food and individual families prepared items to share communally. There were large pavilions where the men barbecued chicken and ribs and fried fish, while another pavilion would be set aside for cakes and pastries. 

Despite this being a sacred Muslim holiday, participation in the celebration was enjoyed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  My childhood masjid community was unique in many ways because it always sought to involve the non-Muslim community in almost everything it did.  Therefore, anyone who showed up would be guaranteed to be fed and welcomed to participate in the celebration.  In this way, Eid celebrations served as a passive form of dawah that immersed people’s non-Muslim family into an Islamic tradition that was culturally accessible.  The Eid was truly a community gathering in the broadest sense.

 

Eid celebrations were special in that they provided those without Muslim family members an opportunity to establish a tradition around a community gathering. To this day, I have never celebrated an Eid at my grandmother’s house.

 

While the tradition of slaughtering an animal and distributing its meat to the poor has been carried on in traditional Muslim communities, the distribution of food and food goods around this tradition are not as literal in African American Muslim communities.  Eid festivals tread a fine line between celebration and service provision.  While you may find many non-Muslims serving in soup kitchens on or around the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays, the relationship of server and the served creates many an unintended disconnection in the unity which is a requirement for an y celebration.  My community always strove to ensure that the poor could celebrate without the distinction of being served.  If there were individuals who needed continued help or charity, they were invited into the care of the community long-term. 

For me, Eid al Adha was always a time to reflect upon the willing sacrifices that we must make - not just the sacrifices that occur due to adversity.  We often find ourselves in situations that require personal sacrifice, but rarely do we make a clear intention to give in sacrifice or to practice the art of sacrifice.  This is the lesson of the Eid which I have begun to include into my own family traditions, built around  practicing sacrifice. 

Although my kids, five and six, both understand Ramadan and how it culminates with Eid ul Fitr, it has been more difficult to instill the meaning of Eid al Adha.  What we have begun to do is to read about and perform the rituals of the Hajj so that the Eid will have more meaning than just being a celebration- another holiday.  As a child, I can remember having no truly meaningful understanding of the Eid, but this is something that I wish to instill very early with my kids.

 

For me, Eid al Adha was always a time to reflect upon the willing sacrifices that we must make - not just the sacrifices that occur due to adversity.

 

I can recall the feeling of eagerness awaiting the return of our Hajjis to tell everyone of their hajj experience.  A Sunday afternoon following the Taleem service was always designated for the Hajjis, men and women, to speak before the congregation about their experience.  Everyone would speak of the unity they felt and the spiritual transformations that they had undergone. Often listening to friends and family members tell their stories, I’d commit myself to going when I got “bigger”.  The stories provided a lot of insight for me. However, this was lost to the fact that those feelings of unity and transformation that were passed onto me in these personal accounts did not take place leading up to the Eid, but one to two weeks after.  Therefore, the meaning of the celebration was quite limp for me.  At the end of the presentation, all of the kids were invited to take an item from a table of jewelry, scarves, toys, and other wares that the hajjis had brought back.  In my young mind, the Eid was about celebrating and getting stuff.

My questions and need for more information and connectedness with the Eid has informed the way I educate my kids around the holiday.  I not only explain the story of Abraham, but work hard for them to understand its wisdom.  Therefore, I intentionally test them and their willingness to give up things that they love and enjoy so that they will understand the feelings and emotions of sacrifice rather than perceiving it as a mere concept.  It has been interesting to see how my own children wrestle with their nafs and use the story of Abraham in helping to guide their thinking.

As an adult who is now living in a small town with Muslims who are culturally and ethnically different from myself, my forms of celebration have had to change a bit.  Whereas large community gatherings characterized the Eid celebrations of my youth, today celebrations are much more traditional and ritualistic.  The emphasis on tradition and ritual in my new community have been of great benefit to me as I seek more integrated ways of instilling a sense of Holy Day vs. holiday in my kids.  Although we miss some of the uniquely American traditions of the Eid, we are beginning to settle into a very comfortable approach to the Eid that is a very spiritually infused form of celebration.

 

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