<%-- Page Title--%> Reflections <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 131 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

November 21, 2003

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Eid at Home

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

In any country the holiday season is a time of enjoyment, reflection and general euphoria. Looking back I can remember Christmas time in New York. Neon lights and hugely lit snow-flakes decorated trees on the streets. The famous Rockefeller Tree stood proud bearing its magnificence to its audience. Around it, New York's tourists and inhabitants sped around the ice-skating rink. It was always biting cold, as I remember, with the wind whipping my hair around, causing it to get knotty. But there was something comforting about the over-all carol singing, hot chocolate drinking, freezing cold but otherwise generally divine feeling of Christmas time in New York. It was comforting -- but at the same, very lonely. After all, spending the holidays away from home and seeing others with their families is never fun, be it Christmas or Eid.

I couldn't remember what it was like to be home in Dhaka for Eid. While living abroad, Eid was not a general holiday for everyone, but one that was eclectic. Our college Muslim Students Association held a big dinner in which they catered food (halal, of course) from Pakistani restaurants, everyone wore their pretty new Eid outfits (which were usually totally unsuitable for the wintertime) and that was it. The next day, we went about our lives, just as we had the day before. Our Eid festivities lasted for three hours (or until the management of the building we were hosting our “Eid party” in, threw us out).

After I graduated, Eid became a competitive pity party for all my friends and their parents: who will invite the homeless, poor international Muslim girls to their house for Eid first? I ended up going to five different places because I did not want to disappoint anyone and make them feel that their kindness was unappreciated. Something always made me uncomfortable about Eid over in the U.S. -- I was afraid. I was afraid because I was a Muslim celebrating Eid in a religiously biased country, where people regarded Muslims as killers and terrorists and extremists. I was afraid because when I walked past the neighbourhood mosque it looked deserted and empty. I was afraid because there were no Christmas lights, or elation…only determination -- the determination to practice one's religion. Eid was not so much a normal occasion, but more like a hide-and-seek mission. Except, sometimes I felt that I was the only one who was hiding. Everyone else was proud, while I alone stood shaken and scared. I wondered: am I ashamed of who I am? In that race to be determined in who we are, have we forgotten to actually experience the joy out of the celebration?

Last year was my first Eid in Dhaka after five years. I finally remembered what it was like to be HOME for a holiday. Things hadn't changed a bit. Chand raat can be announced by the triumphant shouting and cheering from the people in the streets. Chili-shaped white lights decorate every building and tree imaginable. Banners stream out into the wind screaming Eid Mubarak. Crisp new punjabis matched with white toopees strut down the street while and brightly coloured long flowing aachols and dupattas sail in the wind, as people show off their new Eid clothes. In every house the smell of fried boras and sweet shemai permeates the air like sweet perfume. The parking lot at the Azad Masjid, right across from my house quietly and respectably hosted scores of cars. The news on T.V. showed footage of men from every mosque, regardless of class and background, bowing down as one. The feeling of life was in the air. A whole month of fasting, contemplating, reflecting and sacrificing had worked its course and now came time for the festivities.

I came full circle when I returned to Bangladesh. Maybe what I craved all along was stability, comfort, dealing with the familiar after grappling with the unfamiliar for so long. Eid was natural here…that's what struck me… NATURAL, UNFORCED, UNTOUCHED and UNAFRAID. There were no loaded terms or double meanings involved in our celebrations. There was no fear of neighbours thinking that “those damn Moslems are getting together to plan another terrorist attack,” or a passerby shouting the words “why don't you just take your rags and go back where you came from?” There was no tired fight to practice one's beliefs regardless of what the outside world thinks, no compensation and going overboard to prove the point that we are not afraid and best of all, no sense of inequality, no thoughts of being a minority. It was simply Eid, back home in Dhaka.



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