Every year, Zarinah El-Amin’s mother, Cheryl, and fellow Muslim women in Detroit pooled their money to purchase toys for children on Eid, the annual festival that marks the end of Ramadan. They wanted to make sure every Muslim child who came to the mosque for Eid prayers could walk out with a toy ― a special way to mark the holiday and give back to the community.
So after her mother died last year, she took over the toy drive. But then the coronavirus pandemic halted gatherings and closing mosques in its wake ― and it forced her and the community to find a new way to celebrate together.
Muslims across the world have had to readjust traditions in order to comply with social distancing orders, and for the last month, Muslims have marked a particularly challenging Ramadan –– the holy month in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and traditionally break that fast with large dinner parties and gatherings at the mosques.
Eid al-Fitr, which took place Sunday, is usually marked by morning prayer services followed by traditional gatherings of friends and family over lavish meals. Instead, Muslims found other ways to mark the day, including praying at home and connecting with family over video-conferencing apps, such as Zoom.
In the days leading up to Eid, El-Amin and her two youngest children, Isra and Isa Naeem, picked out toys and packed goodie bags filled with candy to give to other Muslim children. For even just a day, El-Amin and her family can forget the pandemic and celebrate the true essence of Eid ― community and festivity after a month of sacrifice and hard work.
“It’s so important for them to see that they can be happy and they can have their own traditions,” she said. “And they can share those traditions with other people, and they don’t have to feel left out.”
On Sunday, they handed out the goodie bags as part of a new drive-thru Eid.
The idea started when Sameerah Sadiq, a local business owner, was strolling down Woodward Avenue with her husband the week before and were reminded of the Woodward Dream Cruise, an annual car parade in Michigan that has brought together more than a million people in the past. Although it is unlikely that this year’s car show will happen because of the coronavirus, Sadiq floated the idea of having a smaller cruise to mark Eid.
“I was trying to figure out how we as a family could enjoy this quarantine Eid, and that was the first thing that came to mind,” Sadiq said. “It supports social distancing, and it allows for us to still have some type of festivities during our celebration.”
So instead of dressing up to come to the mosque for prayers, Muslims in the community prayed at home, dressed themselves and their cars up, and joined their community for a Woodward Eid cruise.
Families started at the Muslim Center, where nearly 200 cars snaked around the mosque parking lot while volunteers, including El-Amin, handed out toys to those families who were required to stay in their cars. The procession then continued downtown.
“This entire pandemic has been traumatizing for people, and it’s showing up in children’s lives in different ways,” said Mark Crain, the executive director of Dream of Detroit, a community development initiative, and a father of two who helped bring the event to life. “Whatever we can do to mitigate that a little bit, and to preserve the spirit of fun and celebration on Eid for them, that’s what we want to try and do.”
Mosque Drive-Thrus And Drive-Ins
Mosques across the country have embarked on creative ways to celebrate Eid while respecting social distancing orders. Islamic Centers in New York, Florida, New Jersey and Canada hosted Eid drive-thru celebrations.
In Bridgewater, Illinois, where more than 15,000 people gathered for last year’s Eid at the Toyota Park Stadium, the local Mosque Foundation hosted a drive-by reception. Muslim families drove into the Mosque Foundation’s parking lot to greet others from their vehicles while mosque staff, some dressed in cartoon character costumes, handed out gifts and goodie bags to children.
“We want to make sure that people would not miss that spirit of the first day of Eid at the conclusion of Ramadan,” said Oussama Jammal, the mosque’s president and board chairman. “Our faith is very flexible and very understanding of exceptional situations, and therefore allowed us to exercise exceptional ways to worship.”
In Sacramento, California, Muslim organizers also coordinated a drive-thru during the day so people could greet their family and friends from a safe distance and enjoy coffee ― a traditional treat after a month of fasting.
In the evening, organizers put together a Drive-In Eid Movie Night, when families watched “Spider-Man” from their cars. Waseem Peracha, one of the organizers, said it was important for him to find a way for young Muslim children to celebrate Eid despite the pandemic. His organization, Ilmscape, arranges retreats for young Muslims in the Sacramento area, but those are now on hold. “COVID shouldn’t stop us from practicing our faith,” he said. “Our faith teaches us to be righteous and be good to the neighbors, be festive and try to have a positive attitude.”
Upholding Traditions At Home
Near Baltimore, Abeer Shinnawi, a veteran teacher for 18 years and mother to three girls, is trying to foster the spirit of Eid at home. Most years, Shinnawi and her family return to her native Chicago to celebrate Eid with family and friends. If they were unable to travel, they celebrated with loved ones nearby.
Last year, Shinnawi’s mom friends and their daughters gathered in her home to make maa’moul, a traditional Middle Eastern cookie made of semolina and stuffed with date paste or nuts. This year, Shinnawi and her girls made the cookies alone.
Shinnawi said it was difficult figuring out how to best celebrate while following social distancing, especially as a Palestinian and an Arab, for whom physical touch and hospitality are emphasized in the culture. She wanted to serve and feed everyone personally.
But if being a history teacher has taught her anything, it’s that people have coped in the past. Her mother used to record cassette tapes to send to her family. Now, Shinnawi has myriad options to see, chat and connect with her family and friends.
That sense of community and history is important to El-Amin, too, who has been homeschooling her children since schools closed down in Detroit. So far, the experience and Eid gift preparation have offered lessons in gratitude, patience and the unpredictability of life.
“We should be thankful that we get to have the stuff and we should be thankful that we get to do this and help other people, too,” said her 7-year-old, Isra Naeem.
El-Amin said celebrating Eid as a family and community helps the children through the challenges of growing up as Muslims in America.
“They do not see their holidays reflected in the broader society,” she said. “They can’t just walk in Target and everything is looking like Eid. It is incumbent upon us to make sure that it is ingrained in them so that they know not only the significance of what the holiday is but also so that they can feel excited.”
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