By Shireen Hakim
Even as an anti-social introvert, it was difficult to be isolated from the community during Ramadan 2020, which ran from April 23 to May 23. It is the most joyous month for Muslims and we strive to pray, greet, and feed one another to gain extra blessings and feelings of goodwill. This year, Ramadan was more somber than we are used to because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as American Muslims obeyed best public health practice measures and stayed at home instead of visiting the mosque nightly.
As Eid ul- Fitr, the holiday of feasting after the holy month of Ramadan, approached on May 24, I tried not to feel depressed. Usually, it is the best day of the year, but the quarantine ruling dampened my spirits.
During the last week of Ramadan, I took my copy of Once Upon an Eid off my Muslim bookshelf. I am not surprised that this middle-grade anthology, recently published on May 5, is the Amazon #1 New Release in Children’s Muslim Fiction. The stories written by some of my favorite Muslim authors, including S.K. Ali, Hena Khan, Jamilah Thompkins- Bigelow (I love her story “Perfect”), and Ashley Franklin, reminded me of the joy of Eid even during this strange time. The award-winning authors wrote about relatable and cherished Eid traditions like eating donuts after Eid prayer and planning your new Eid outfit all year. Plus, there were cute spot illustrations that complemented the stories throughout the book by the prolific Sara Alfageeh. Once Upon an Eid can also be enjoyed by young adults and even people in their thirties like me.
I also love seeing Eid books aimed at younger readers, such as Peg + Cat: The Eid al- Adha Adventure by Jennifer Oxley and Bill Aronson and Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali and illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell. Peg + Cat is one of very few books that center around the lesser-known Eid, focusing on the food sharing aspect of Eid al Adha, “Take from where there’s more and give to where there’s less,” which is a timely lesson since many Americans need extra support due to food insecurity in the pandemic. It is my favorite children’s Eid book because it is heartwarming to see a popular cartoon character celebrate Eid.
The Muslim-authored picture book Our Favorite Day of the Year comes out on June 30, in time for Eid al-Adha. Our Favorite Day of the Year is about kindergarten students that embrace their classmates’ favorite holidays. This book is original because it is written by a Muslim and explores holidays unfamiliar to many Westerners like Pi Day, Las Posadas, and Rosh Hashanah. Although Ali’s protagonist Musa does explain Eid to his school friends, he also makes sure to listen and enjoy their explanations of their cultural and/or religious special days. Kids will follow along with Musa and his friends Moises and Mo through the vibrant illustrations by We Need Diverse Books 2018 award recipient Rahele Jomepour Bell. I imagine this book will become a Muslim kid’s favorite because I vividly remember having to explain Eid to every person in elementary school, the teacher included, so I know young readers will relate. Reading Our Favorite Day of the Year will make kids feel like a part of a diverse group, instead of an outcast among a homogenous class.
My hope for a normal Eid was somewhat raised with the invitations for drive-through Eid celebrations throughout California. I was so grateful for the efforts put forth by mosques and Islamic groups to provide a safe yet joyous Eid celebration for families and kids. After my family prayed the morning Eid prayer at home, which filled my heart with peace and unity, my brother, niece, and I drove to the first drive-through Eid celebration in Diamond Bar, hosted by Eid United.
We drove into the Pakistani restaurant parking lot decorated with ballons, passing the line of thirty cars filled with Muslim families wearing their new Eid outfits and masks and patiently waiting for their turn. Mask and glove-clad volunteers handed us a goodie bag and balloon animal for my niece, and a takeout box of cholay and puri (spiced garbanzo beans and fried bread) and donuts through our car window.
In the evening we drove twenty miles to the Islamic Society of Corona-Norco’s drive through Eid Celebration. We decorated our car with crescent moon and star balloons and lanterns, per ISCN’s request. We were welcomed into the masjid parking lot with a nasheed (non-instrumental Islamic song) and Disney characters like Minnie Mouse, Buzz Lightyear, and Iron Man waving to the gleeful kids (I took photos of my 8-year-old niece and the characters through the car window).
ISCN volunteers decked out in their finest Eid clothes, gloves, and masks passed a goodie bag for my niece and a Halal KFC box for us, through the car window. After, as we drove past dressed up Muslims sitting in their cars in the nearby park parking lot, my brother and I expressed our pleasant surprise that Eid was still fun this year.
At both events, we followed instructions to stay in their cars and maintain social distance, as was instructed on the event flyers. Praise God, I am proud to say that these alternative Eid celebrations still managed to carry the fundamental principles of the holiday: community and charity.
American Muslim institutions so successfully pulled off exceptional celebrations in accordance with government guidelines that California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted his gratitude for California Muslims safely celebrating their holiest time of the year.
Although Muslims celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr 2020 as best we could under social distancing restrictions, we pray that it will be safe enough for us to properly celebrate Eid-al-Adha on July 30. Eid-al-Adha is the celebration following the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. We may not be able to physically attend Hajj this year but will observe the prayer customs and holiday as best we can at home.
Muslim religious celebrations took a hit this year, but our community spirit and faith enabled us to make the most of the special day. I’m glad that I saw smiles on so many children’s faces on Eid ul-Fitr, and I hope reading books about Eid makes them smile as well.