How My British Eid Taught Me Lessons

I spent Eid in the UK before and I HATED it. It was a day like any other day. No one else around me was celebrating. People on the street were just going about their everyday business. There were no cheesy Eid songs on television. It was just a normal day. Eid isn’t supposed to be that way.

I didn’t have it in me to go through another Eid like that.

I haven’t prayed the Eid prayer, as far as I can remember, since my children were babies. I haven’t even been to many communal prayers in mosques since my children were babies. I became fed up with the attitudes people had when they went into a mosque. Suddenly everyone became a grand mufti. Suddenly everybody had a right to butt into your business and tell you how to wear your clothes or where to place your feet or even where you can and cannot store your shoes. The women’s sections in mosques were/are always noisy, cramped and smelly. I can barely hear the imam praying most of the time and I can definitely not see him. If I thought of bringing my children I’d get lectures on how I should be handling them. It was an overall miserable experience that I have been avoiding for years.

Even though I don’t spend much time in the UK, I have been spending more time here than my typical four days. And because I’ve been spending longer and more frequent periods of time here, I’m beginning to feel myself struggle with things I’ve never struggled with before on my short trips out of Egypt.

Eid is an example of this. I found myself feeling indignant that my special religious holiday meant nothing to everyone around me. In a way, I was very offended by the whole of Britain and the Western world. I recalled that in all of my previous jobs, all based in Egypt, we would make a special effort to send out Christmas and New Year’s greetings to non-Muslims working with us in other parts of the world. Rarely would this be reciprocated by the tens if not hundreds of non-Muslims I worked with all over the world. It never really mattered to me. It mattered a little bit but not a lot. I celebrated Eid in Egypt and I was with my family and my friends. I was in the midst of the Arab world with all the celebrations that accompany my special religious holiday. That a few people in other parts of the world had no idea about any of this did not matter so much.

I discovered it does matter when you are living in their midst. I imagined what Muslims living abroad must go through, feeling it necessary to get Christmas gifts for their colleagues and uneasily attending rowdy Christmas parties. Yet when their religious holiday comes by, hardly anyone at all notices.

Long ago, when I was working at IslamOnline, our editorial team raised time and time again the issue of integration of Muslims in non-Muslim countries. Our editors encouraged integration. But I’ve started understanding that if I’m a Muslim resident or a Muslim citizen of the UK and the two holidays I celebrate each year pass by as if they are nothing, I will have strong feelings of resentment towards that country. I don’t even get my special day of the week; my Friday. The important things in my life are barely acknowledged. What I’m going to end up doing is I will flee to find others like me to create my little community within a community to feel safety and comfort.

And this is what I was subconsciously searching for today. I needed Eid. And to have Eid, I needed my people. I found the address of a couple of mosques in the UK city I’m currently based in and I headed out to one of them this morning.

It was heartbreaking walking down the street and seeing no evidence of celebration anywhere. I felt heartbroken until I was two minutes away from the mosque. It was then that my heart lifted. Men wearing the traditional Saudi dress were coming out of their parked car. Women in their different forms of hijab were pushing buggies and holding the hands of their little children. A husband and wife were walking quietly towards the mosque’s main entrance. I was elated.

I entered the mosque in the midst of a group of women. As the women’s section began to fill, I started to feel edgy. Oh God, I thought. Here we go. The jibber-jabber of women, meeting, talking and gossiping, was almost deafening. Small children were crying and others were running about. Female volunteers were standing above all others with red ribbons on their chests, identifying them as the ones in charge, herding the women inside and giving them instructions on how and where to sit. A woman came by and asked everyone in my row to move up a bit and to settle exactly on the brown line. We did as told.

I observed all this, agitated, and tried to understand why the women’s section in any mosque is almost always noisy whereas the men’s is usually not. My conclusion was that the men’s area, once entered, is a place of prayer. The women’s area, always (and in my opinion unnecessarily) separated from this main prayer area, then turns not into a place of prayer but into a place of gathering.

I sat looking at the women: Saudis, Egyptians, Indians, Pakistanis, Malaysians, Moroccans, Algerians, Kuwaitis… I knew none of them yet I knew them all. There were the irritating women who put themselves in charge. There were the young hip girls with smiles on their faces and their studies on their minds. There were the young mothers doing their best to handle rowdy children.

And suddenly I wasn’t irritated anymore. I was home! These were my people: the ones I hated and the ones I loved. And then I realized that I loved my people with all their noise, their self-importance, their nosiness, and their holiness. I loved them with all the things I hated about them simply because they were mine. Out on the street just 20 minutes earlier I did not belong. Here I belonged. Here I was safe. Here I was comfortable. Here I was happy.

The Eid prayer ended and me and the stranger sitting next to me hugged, huge smiles on our faces. “Eid Mubarak!” we told each other.

I left the mosque and asked a woman where I might find an Arab grocer. We had a lovely conversation. It was lovely simply because it was in Arabic and simply because we were both happy on our special occasion. All we did was talk about the grocer, how to get there, and what other alternatives there were. But it was lovely.

I found several Arab/Indian grocers. They had my food! It’s not like my diet is much of a typical Arab diet. It’s not. I eat rather bland food in general. But knowing that my food was there when I needed it was a relief. I lingered in the grocery store and in the general neighborhood of the mosque longer than necessary. But I needed to feel my people just a little bit longer before I thrust myself back into the purely British UK I was staying in.

I understand now. I understand why integration is so hard for Muslims and for people of so many other beliefs and backgrounds. Our host countries want us to be integrated but will not make the effort necessary to make us feel at home.

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49 comments

  1. I see this problem of attitude from the West not just in religious occasions, but in regards to the Middle East in general.

    There is always this attitude of “it’s the Middle East, we don’t have to do anything for them.”

    Take something as simple as the iPhone for example. If you go to the Gulf, everyone and their dog has an iPhone. They are so ridiculously widespread. Yet Apple never has any Arabic-directed advertisements not services. The AppStore here is pathetic. If you have an Android, the paid market is not even available in Egypt even when smartphones are flying off the shelf. It’s ridiculous.

    On the other spectrum, you’ll find companies going to places like Saudi Arabia and UAE and doing business for ridiculous amounts of money (money they don’t even have a chance of discussing in Europe or North America) and then not bothering to have a good marketing team in place that understands the basics of the area – even to do something as simple as send out an Eid greeting to their contacts in the region.

    I believe it’s a remnant form of neo-imperialism in a way.

  2. I’m just going to give you two examples from my life and leave it that. I grew up in the UK and went to a C of E high school. Religious Studies was mandatory for a couple of years. In the 2nd year, we studied Judaism and were able to visit a Synagogue in town. We were all wearing our school uniforms and the boys wore baseball caps. Later, I opted to continue taking Religious Studies. One year, we studied Islam. Our teachers wanted to take us to a Mosque. There isn’t one in my hometown, so they contacted ones in the nearby cities of Leeds and Bradford. We were told it was impossible to arrange such a visit.

    One of my friends had parents who lived in Saudi Arabia. I gather the father was an oil engineer. My friend would spend the school holidays with them. In the lower 6th form, we were given holiday homework in our Religious Studies class. My friend had to get an exemption because she wasn’t allowed to take a Bible into Saudi Arabia. Anyone can read a Koran in the UK or USA, but my friend could have been in some serious trouble if caught with a Bible in Saudi Arabia.

    Ah, screw it, I’m going to say too more things.

    Here in the USA, integration isn’t thought of in religious terms. It’s about colour. Check out the famous Supreme Court case Brown v Board of Education. Even today, race is a contentious issue. For example, if you don’t support our current president, Barack Obama, there are people who will accuse you of racism, even if it’s his policies you don’t agree with. After race comes, well, I guess you could call it culture. We have a lot of Spanish-speaking immigrants, some legal and some not. Schools must teach Spanish. In some parts of the country, you have to be able to speak business Spanish. There are immigrants who have never learned to speak English and insist you speak Spanish to them. By the way, the Italians, Chinese, Polish, Indians etc. all learned English.

    Finally, I’m a Christian. I believe that Christmas is more than just bright lights, parties and presents. For me, it’s a religious event, but for so many non-believers it’s just a day of family getting together, parties and presents. Every year, I experience that moment of sadness because of the commercialisation of the event. In a way, I wish it was more of an exclusive event. But whenever I’ve spoken about this, I’ve been shouted at by those who aren’t members of the Christian faith. It’s like, how dare I have opinions like that.

    Okay, I’m going to shut up now ;)

    1. I wish one could like comments on blog posts. I would have “liked” this one. I was considering going off into a parallel in this blog post about the Christian minority in Egypt. But then I decided that the issue I am raising does not only apply to me and to Muslims, but it is a good example of it. Books could be written about this from so many different perspectives.

    2. You wrote “Schools must teach Spanish.”

      Maybe some, I think it depends on where you are (education is not standardized in the US), I and pretty sure lots of schools have gutted any study that isn’t on the standardized tests, so good-bye art, music, and languages.

      -kb

      1. Asalamu Alaykom Kent,

        There are core standards now in the U.S. which public schools are adopting. Everyone must have a second language to graduate. While there is limited French and German, the predominent language to take in every state is Spanish.

        There is only one official language in the U.S. but Spanish is certainly the unofficial second language. It is, as Sally writes, in all the stores and on government signage, etc.

  3. Interesting post, thanks.

    I was recently thinking about Malala Yousufzai, in hospital in the UK, and now her family visiting. I was wondering about some related questions of what is “home”. I was thinking about how Malala is safe and being treated for a nasty injury, but she is not home. “Home” is an interesting place.

    But I wasn’t considering the approach of Eid, it isn’t on any calendar I ever see. Sorry. I am more xenophilic, better traveled, and know far more about Islam than your average westerner, but I don’t really know anything about Eid. Any real contact with routine Islamic culture is a extremely remote from my daily life.

    In the west we don’t know more than maybe three things about Islamic culture. And sadly, most of what we think we know about Islam is negative. A sad problem.

    Still…

    Eid Mubarack!

    -kb

  4. Dear Nadia, I’m sorry about the way you feel in England and I hope that we can do better in future and that you will continue to visit us. Anyway I’m glad you found a friendly mosque and some shops.

    The problem is that England is, nationally, a Christian country. Not that you’d notice for the most part! We never get to hear about the religious festivals of the non Christian people who
    live here; be they Muslim, Sikh, Pagan, Hindu, Jew or whatever. We do, however invite them to enjoy our Christmas, Easter and so forth and for the most part they do.

    Another problem is that, I’m sad to say, Muslims in the UK do seem to enjoy being ‘put upon’ and seen as victims; that’s when they’re not being seen as fanatics or terrorists – sorry but you’ve been here so you’ve seen it. If we could only make the effort to learn about and understand the religions being practised in the UK it would be so good and maybe then we would enjoy everyone’s festivals.

    If it’s not too late, Happy Eid.
    Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jew, Pagan or whatever

    1. It’s never too late for change. And I absolutely do know there are problems that originate from within the Muslim community. But what I’m trying to say is that, as a relatively good-willed person who believes in the necessity of integration, who has been around the world, and who knows the positives and negatives about my own people, I myself for the short period of time I have been here feel resentment because my holiday is not acknowledged anywhere. If this is how a person like me feels after a very short period of time visiting, I can only imagine the resentment in others and how that may manifest itself.

      And thanks for the Eid greeting!

      1. I do agree but what is the Muslim community in the UK doing to inform us of your festivals? Seeing SallyM’s reply would we even be welcomed if we wanted to embrace your festivals?

      2. I don’t have an answer to the first question. What should they do? These are fixed dates that everyone knows. It’s not a big secret. I would see no reason why Muslims wouldn’t want others to celebrate with them as long as they felt it was sincere.

      3. This is for Sixwheeler below:

        Asalamu Alaykom,

        During the Olympics, there was HUGE talk in the UK about Ramadan fasting and the Muslim athletes. There were iftar invites from mosques all over London for those who simply wanted to experience the dinner time together—-you didn’t have to convert or sign off your first-born son.

        Now that the time has passed, it doesn’t mean you aren’t still welcome. You are! For real you can locate a masjid/mosque near you on the ‘net and find out prayer times as well. I use http://www.islamicfinder.org . Please don’t let your curiousity die without getting it fully satiated. Go ahead! See what Muslims do at the mosque :)

        And I said at the beginning that this was for Sixwheeler but really it’s an open invite to everyone. Why not go and have a story to tell later: “The Day I Visited the Local Mosque”.

  5. Nadia, I think holidays are a relatively small issue. Compare how big a deal Christmas is in London or New York with what it’s like in Cairo. There’s no comparison. Do you think that’s what makes Copts in Egypt fearful about being a religious minority there, that makes them consider emigrating? Or is it the everyday discrimination and recurrent horrific violence they face because of their religion?

    The UK is much more religiously diverse than Egypt. To do what you’re suggesting, it would have to make all the holidays of all the world’s myriad religions into spectacular public holidays. A fairer solution would be to recognise no religious holidays at all.

  6. I think holidays are a relatively small issue. Compare how big a deal Christmas is in London or New York with what it’s like in Cairo. There’s no comparison. Do you think that’s what makes Copts in Egypt fearful about being a religious minority there? Or is it the everyday discrimination and recurrent horrific violence they face because of their religion?

    The UK is much more religiously diverse than Egypt. To do what you’re suggesting, it would have to make all the holidays of all the world’s myriad religions into spectacular public holidays. A fairer solution would be to recognise no religious holidays at all.

    1. In case my comment above wasn’t clear: if all religious holidays of all the world’s religions (or even just those practised in the UK) were public holidays, everyone would be on holiday 365 days a year, and no one would ever work. This is the basic problem with people wanting the state to give their religion special treatment: it can’t be done for all religions, therefore it shouldn’t be done for any. Secularism is the only way to be fair to everyone.

      1. Asalamu Alaykom Benjamin,

        You write, “…everyone would be on holiday 365 days a year, and no one would ever work.”

        And the problem with that is…?

  7. Happy Eid Nadia. It was a relief reading your post after spending my first Eid every outside Egypt yesterday (here in UK too). @Benjamin Geer, well, it’s not about holiday, nobody asked for that, just airing an Eid related song in the Radio or just acknowledging you know today is Eid, by saying happy Eid to Muslim people will do.

    I know, it might be different for me, I am just here for one year and leaving later on, I am just a visitor, I am also not that religious person to start with, so I have no right to ask for this, but the citizens of western countries who happen to be Muslims, sure would love people to wish them a happy Eid, it’s just a simple gesture.

    For sure things get harder when their are dozens of beliefs and races in a country, how come someone will follow the holidays of each group of them, I know, and I totally understand. But guess what, people in Egypt are not just Muslims and Christians only, the holidays of the Orthodox Christians differ from that of the Catholic ones. We’ve got Bahaii’s and handful of Jews. I sure mix dates up all the time, but I try my best to keep track of my friends’ religious events to wish them a good year or a blessing holiday then.

    1. Tarek, please reread the first paragraph Nadia’s post. This is what bothered her about Eid in Britain: “People on the street were just going about their everyday business. There were no cheesy Eid songs on television. It was just a normal day. Eid isn’t supposed to be that way.” Nadia wants Eid in the UK to be exactly like Eid in Egypt. This is certainly possible if all you care about is Muslim holidays. It’s not possible to give the same treatment to all the holidays of all the world’s religions. And since you brought up the Bahais in Egypt, has any Egyptian government ever made any public acknowledgement of any Bahai holiday?

      1. Ben, I’m just describing how I felt. I didn’t suggest solutions. And I’m fully aware that what I felt is similar to what other minorities feel elsewhere, including in the Arab world. As I explained to Sara, what I describe is simply an example of a general problem that does need to be addressed especially in the context of needing to integrate minorities in their host countries.

  8. Hope that you had a happy Eid Nadia. I agree with what you had written. I converted/reverted some years ago so my family are not Muslim, and my born and bred Muslim husband’s family are from abroad so Eid was a very ordinary day. Also I had to go to work, my boss doesn’t allow religious holidays (I work in a school) A Muslim colleague asked me how many Christians, religious or not, would come in on Christmas day? There were many Muslim pupils not in school that day. I saw one girl who I know is Muslim and asked her why she came in. She said that Eid here is boring and much better in her country which coincidentally is Egypt!
    My husband is African and his eyes light up when he talks about Eid in his country, I hope in the future to be there to celebrate and appreciate it with my husband’s family, inshallah.

  9. dear Nadia,
    i don’t know from where should I start but in the begining i have to applogize that my comment here is not about your article but about something else which i Hesitated for a while to talk about it or not but somehow I found I have to say it anyway and excuse me if i write in the followig line sometimes in franco if my english don’t help me . first I want to tell you that the first time I know you was from an interview with yosri fouda and from that interview I flet that I know you before that and it’s just feeling may be because you are egyptian american like me anyway I admit it that after that interview I wished that when I turn in your age I can do many different things like you, and after another one year I watched your second interview with yousri and when he mentianed that you are divorced i felt sad for you and after that when I knew you are get married again I felt happy for you and I followed you in twitter for awhile and in this period i read one or two of your articles which I liked it and made me know that you think very well and we have the same view in many issues until one day I saw your pic in the twitter without headscarf I shocked really and i felt sad for you in the same time , i’m not the person that judge on the people from thier appearance because I beleive in the appearance is a part of personality on the whole one and what you wear is not what you are at all and also it’s apart of the human rights that everyone wear what he wants but I really feel sad when I found a muslim woman was wearing headscraf and put it off , at that moment I decided to write a message for you about it but I don’t know why you took that decision so I can’t argue you on it without knowing the reason then from two days by Coincidence I saw your last article (this article) which I like it and then I start to read the pervious ones and in many articles I liked your views and I read the your articles about the headscarf and I found another similarities between us and now I can tell you my view in the headscraf and remmeber if you Continue reading this comment it’s not judging your personality at all, I still respect you as before and nothing change at all. I’ll not deny that after the 2 interviews i found you a role model for american muslim women and I wish someday I wear my hajab like you in the perfect way but i know now how you hate the role modeling thing but I want to tell you in sometimes we become role model for someone even if we don’t want it at least for our kids. I’ll get to the point now after reading ur articles I found similarities like I told you specially in how to we wore the head scraf in the fact my dad enforce me to wear the head scarf when I get 16 years old in the first I reject it and he insist on it until he decided he will use every single weapon he got to make me wear it and everytime I reject it badly and it was at that time like a war in the home and the worst thing at that time that every single member in the family was in his side and I resisted it (it was almost the same steps you have been through) until everyone in the family give up in that issue and no one was talking about it anymore but after 2 months I decided to wear it not because to bless my family but because at that time I thought that why do I reject it? is it because I want to enjoy my hair and cool clothes or what? and the answer was yes then I thought what if allah take my hair what will I do? the answer was I’ll wear headscraf to cover my baldness so allah can take it away so i’ll wear the headscarf to say thank you allah for that gift that some people don’t have it was that simple not because I want to bless my dad or to take away the men looks or because of society which was one of my dad weapons and i want to tell you I beleive it’s fard wa 2ala leh banlbas el hajab fe sala wa 2a7na bean 2ayde allah 7ata wa ma7desh shyfna dah msh about society at all. Nadia take it as you say thank you allah for all gifts that I have if you don’t find an explantion for that fard . my dad who was the main reason of making me thinking about wearing the hijab and from one year ago he told me that he wasn’t want me in his life from begining this words make my world upside down and that’s broke my heart but I’ve never thought to take off the headscarf at all because when i did it I did to myself not for him or anyone else, nadia you are fortunate and dah msh 7asad bgd rabna yadmha 3alky na3m at least you can remmber your dad with good memories after his death, my point is if you wear it you will wear it for yourself not to get respect from someone or to not get sins but to protect yourself your health and now you know how scraf is proctecting your ears in cold weather which i was intending to talk about it and I know you are looking for something I hope you will find it soon and rabna yawf2ak wa yahedeke lama ya7bo wa yardah , plz think about it again nadia.

    1. the one who respect you will respect you whatever you did because they know you well and those who want to discard you from their lifes they will with very first fault you do

  10. Nadia, it’s true that you didn’t suggest solutions, but you did write: “Our host countries want us to be integrated but will not make the effort necessary to make us feel at home.” This implies that there is some easy solution, if only the host countries would make the necessary effort. What effort do you want them to make? Here are some calendars for just a few of the other religions practised in the UK (besides Christianity), so you can get some idea of just how many religious holidays there are:

    Buddhist holidays: http://www.wheeloftheyear.com/2012/buddhist.htm
    Hindu holidays: http://www.calendarlabs.com/calendars/religious/hindu-calendar.php
    Jewish holidays: http://www.chabad.org/calendar/holidays_cdo/aid/1126695/jewish/2012-Holidays.htm
    Sikh holidays: http://festivals.iloveindia.com/sikh-festivals.html

    Also, do Jewish holidays get any more attention in the UK than Muslim holidays do? I seem to remember that they don’t, but nobody seems to mind. This, again, suggests that integration has very little to do with holidays, and much more to do with more basic forms of discrimination, e.g. in employment.

    1. I know there are no easy solutions. And I know there are so many other religious holidays. My post intended to describe the feelings of one Muslim woman visiting a foreign country and who is not even a resident but who nevertheless experienced a feeling of bitterness. If this is how I feel, then I can only imagine what others who do live here feel. And others includes all “others”. Not just the Muslims and the Arabs. It’s very difficult to live somewhere and be an “other”. And if governments insist on integrating, they have a lot of work ahead of them. If governments want to prevent terrorism by preventing how it starts in many cases (feelings of bitterness and resentment) then there’s lots of work that needs to be done. Not celebrating “others'” religious holidays is not the solution. But understanding what this simple example means to people and what failing to acknowledge the simple things does to the “others” can help governments to start working in the right direction.

      1. Nadia, I understand your feelings, and I agree completely that Britain needs to do a lot more to accommodate cultural diversity and end discrimination. But I also think that sometimes, people feel bitter when they lose a privileged status that they’re used to having. The atmosphere of Eid in Egypt depends on the fact that Islam is the dominant religion there and enjoys special privileges. I don’t think you could have that atmosphere in a country where no religion was given any more privileges than any other.

      2. But that’s not true. And that’s exactly my point. Here in the UK, Christianity IS given privilege. The example in this case is that Christmas is the formal religious holiday of the year whereas all others are neglected. This is not only at the country level. This is at the citizen level. And that is why I gave some personal examples. I recall how my father, some 40 years ago, became very sensitive about celebrating Christmas with my mother’s family. I don’t think we ever did. But now I believe I understand why. Why would he celebrate Christmas with his in-laws if they did not reciprocate and celebrate Eid with him? Is their religious holiday anymore important than ours? I happen to now have the same exact feelings: either we reciprocate the celebration of our religious holidays or we don’t celebrate each other’s holidays at all. I’ll celebrate mine and you celebrate yours. And don’t you impose your holiday celebrations on me every single place I go. And if that is going to be the case, then just as there is a two month shopping season for Christmas (which I admit isn’t a good thing…but it’s just an example) then I want a two month shopping season for Eid as well.

        I don’t think it’s about losing a privileged status. I don’t think my current feelings stem from losing such a status (if there even is one). I’m just a visitor here. I’ll go back to my country in a few weeks and get that amazing (sarcasm) privileged status back. It’s much more than that. Much much more.

      3. Nadia, yes, Christianity is given privileged status in the UK, and I think that’s wrong. As I wrote in my first comment: “A fairer solution would be to recognise no religious holidays at all.” The point I’ve been trying to make is that there should not be a two-month shopping season for any religion, because it’s impossible to do it for all religions.

        However, judging by the first paragraph of your post, it seems that you’ll only be satisfied with Eid in the UK if it’s just like Eid in Egypt. But this is impossible without giving Islam special privileges, favouring it over other religions.

        Hence, as I said, secularism is the only way to be fair to everyone. I’d like to see Britain become a truly secular state, in which Christians would not enjoy the special privileges they currently enjoy, and in which nobody else would enjoy those special privileges either. Then we’d have real equality.

      4. I understand what you’re saying, Benjamin, but I can’t say I agree. It would be a horrible shame if a country like the UK didn’t have Christmas as a special holiday. I want Christians to be able to celebrate their special holiday out loud and rambunctiously. I believe that is their right. They should have days off to celebrate it. That only seems right. But other people of other religions should have that same right. I don’t know how that can be done. I have no solutions. I am only expressing the feelings one gets from being excluded from being able to celebrate one’s special religious holiday in an equal matter. And the problem does not only come from the state. The problem also comes from the people. It hurts me when I’m just naturally expected to celebrate Christmas with my non-Muslim friends and family while they don’t think for one moment to celebrate Eid with me.

  11. I personally don’t mind if people celebrate their religious holidays loudly and rambunctiously, as long as they don’t force their celebrations on me. For me, the commercialised frenzy of Christmas is a long annoyance every year, and I go out of my way to avoid it as much as possible. Similarly, when I lived in Egypt, I used to avoid going out of the house at all during Eid al-Adha so I wouldn’t have to see animals being slaughtered in the street and blood and body parts on the pavement. (Once I nearly tripped over a cow’s head.) Perhaps the solution is that religious festivals should take place only in designated areas outside population centres, like the ones used for music festivals. That would be fairer to those of us who don’t want to participate.

    1. I like how you’re making me think, Benjamin.

      I’m trying to think how I can summarize where the real issues are. This is my attempt (just off the top of my head):

      1. My main problem is the people themselves. It’s non-state related. I’ve been through this time and time again. Christians seem to either think their religious holiday is the only one worth celebrating or they are oblivious to others’ holidays. I’m going to assume good intentions and think it’s the second. It is hurtful to live in the midst of people who expect you to partake in something that is theirs while they do not partake in something that is yours. The solution: we need to find ways so that people learn more about each other, that they are more respectful towards each other, and more understanding of each other. (I realize how utterly idiotic that sounds and that generations of people have been trying to do this re race, religion, ethnicity, etc. We have a very long way to go.)

      2. What makes Christmas stand out so much more than any other religious holiday is two things: the consumer industry and the media. I have no idea whatsoever how the first can be solved. As you say, it’s a frenzy in the Western world and it has turned a religious occasion into a very materialistic one. It’s easier for the media to become more diverse in their coverage of religious issues, celebrations, etc. They just need to wake up to the need.

      3. I know that in the UK there are some attempts at the state level to include religious education in a child’s school curriculum. That is good. But there is so much more they can do. Why not look at population percentages, for example? Perhaps any religious congregation above 10% of the population should be allowed one religious public holiday? Or maybe something should be done so that people of a certain religion are given a day off on one religious holiday a year but the rest of the population doesn’t get it? But where does that leave the non-religious? Or people whose religions don’t have religious occasions?

      Clearly this is something that isn’t easily solved. And I really don’t want to make this about Eid or Christmas or Hanukkah.To me, it’s a much larger issue of: how do we integrate people of various ethnicities and creeds under one nation while making sure they feel ownership of this nation and that they truly belong and are not just guests?

      1. It seems to me that most religious people aren’t interested in religions other than their own, and avoid learning about them. There are of course exceptions, but they’re rare and are often motivated by professional interest. I think this is basically because everyone understands that not all religions can be valid, since the teachings of different religions are incompatible with one another. For example, monotheists and polytheists can’t both be right. Hence religions are essentially in competition with one another for followers. Parents don’t want their children to learn about other religions, because they’re afraid their children’s minds will be influenced by competing beliefs. This is why there are all sorts of rituals and prohibitions that are designed to keep people loyal to the religion of their parents, and to keep them from thinking about other religions (and from thinking about giving up religion). Converts, or people who lose faith, are often ostracised or worse. Many religions teach that unbelievers and the followers of other religions will go to hell. This teaching serves to make people unfriendly towards anyone who doesn’t follow their religion, because there’s a limit to how friendly you can be to someone who you believe is going to a well-deserved hell for spreading evil and falsehood. Hence it seems to me that the problems you’re concerned about are caused by the competitive nature of religion.

  12. I think the question here is about what is “home” and how we deal with not being home.

    Yes, we should think about how to make guests feel welcome, and certainly we should be fair to all our citizens, details to be worked out, I hope in a fair and considerate way.

    But you grew up in one one nation and then traveled to another nation…you are not “home”, things will be different at your destination, different nations are different.

    There are a lot of marvelous things about the UK. Why are you in the UK? At the heart of it, it is kind of because it is not Egypt, isn’t it?

    I have been places where there was no Christmas at Christmas, and I figure that happened because I went someplace where there was no Christmas at Christmas. I did that. I didn’t blame my destination for not having Christmas.

    -kb

    1. The issue I am raising is a bit different, Kent. I do understand what you are saying. But what I’m saying is that the UK (and many other countries) are countries with a multitude of religions. The UK is no longer a country of Christianity only. There are large communities living in the UK that belong to other religions. I’m also not talking about visitors like you and me. I was using myself as an example, a visitor, and trying to say that if I feel this way, imagine what the residents and citizens feel. This was a small thing for me, the visitor. It is a big thing for the resident and the citizen who are not Christians and who do not celebrate Christmas.

  13. Thanks for your honesty. I’m curious though, and in no way mean to be offensive, but I would really like to know why England or any other non-Muslim majority country should acknowledge Eid or any other non-Christian religious holiday. And why should a Muslim feel RESENTMENT that their holiday is not acknowledged in these countries? (Would you feel that same resentment if you spent Eid in China?) Shouldn’t non-Muslim countries have the right to be non-Muslim in every way? Shouldn’t they have the right to be secular or nominally Christian, if that indeed is what their historical/cultural background is? Does integration mean that the STATE needs to integrate into other religious traditions, or does it mean that religious minorities who CHOOSE to live in such state should make a wholehearted effort to integrate into the traditions of such state? Lastly, nowhere in the West is it illegal to be a Muslim or practice any other faith. Yet there are plenty of places in the Muslim world where it’s illegal to practice Christianity and other religions. I myself have visited and lived in some of these countries, without feeling resentment, and without feeling the country wasn’t doing enough to accommodate my religious/cultural preferences. I think the fact that people are free to worship whomever they want and set up houses of worship in the West is enough. The West shouldn’t have to lose its cultural identity by bending backwards to accommodate all of the world’s religious traditions. One of the beauties of this imperfect world we live in is its diversity. We have a Muslim world, a Christian world, a secular world, a Bhuddist world, a Jewish one, an animist one, etc etc. And people are free to live in the part of the world they like. What good would it do to have the same customs/beliefs/practices in every single country?

  14. Additionally, based on a comment you made above, why should Christians (the people, not the state), acknowledge or celebrate another faith’s traditions? Don’t they have the right to believe that their faith is the best, even if objectively speaking, it is not? Don’t billions of Muslims feel this way? This argument of integration on the part of the state or people just keeps falling apart from me, as I’ve been living in Egypt for 5 years, speak fluent Arabic, and see the irony of an Egyptian demanding religious inclusion and acknowledgment in the West. Egypt is just as or even more diverse than Western countries, yet it doesn’t feel the need to reach out to non-Muslims. We all know how difficult it is to be Christian in Egypt (and they are born there, not migrating from Western countries!). We all know that sectarianism is a huge problem there, and that it’s becoming more of an issue now that Muslim fanatics control the government. And that’s just Egypt, which is more “moderate” than Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. I think until the Muslim world acknowledges its indigenous Christian communities and grants them the same rights and treatment as Muslims, the West has no moral or legal obligation to do anymore than it’s already doing, i.e. granting religious freedom to everyone.

  15. Dear Nadia,

    Having silently followed your blog and Twitter for a while now, please let me add my “European two cents” on this:

    The regulatory issues you’ve mentioned are mostly already implemented in most European countries. Muslim or Jewish students can take the day off on their respective holidays, and schools will not conduct any mandatory tests on these days. Employees can either take a day of vacation or unpaid leave. That seems a fair and practical solution, since they get the same paid leave on Christian and secular holidays as everybody else does, so ultimately everybody has the same number of paid days off, and no religious person is forced to work on “their” holidays (unless they are working in a hospital or other 24/7 workplace, of course, but in these places being in a minority religion actually a big advantage in terms of your chances to get “your” holiday off).

    However, your main issue was not the government but the people, such as myself. I will freely admit that there is not much awareness of the second Eid in Europe (is it called lesser Eid?). The only Jewish and Muslim holidays most of us are actively aware of are Chanukah, and Ramadan and the Eid which marks the end of Ramadan (greater Eid?). The latter is probably both due to the practical implications, i.e. everybody is aware that observant Muslims fast during the day and we should be considerate of that, and due to the fact that we understand it more since it somewhat resonates with Christian fasting and its end being marked by Easter. Plus, to tell you the truth, we might be a tiny bit jealous (hint: we would really like to be invited for Iftar, if you do not mind and have a spare seat at your table). As for everything beyond Ramadan and Chanukah, the truth is that – as you said – we, that is mainstream European people, do not bother much. Jewish holidays are simply too many to start with, and Muslim holidays keep moving in the Gregorian calendar, so while we are theoretically aware of them, in practice we usually only realize that there was a holiday after the fact, and then it’s a bit late to wish happy Eid.

    However, leaving aside these lovely people who call themselves “Islam critics” and looking at the European mainstream, our apparent apathy is not so much an issue of “We do not respect your religion” or “We think our religion is more important/ better than yours” as a matter of “We’re actually not that much into religion, and that includes ours as well as yours”. We’re a secular bunch. Atheists and agnostics may not (yet) constitute a majority among Europeans, but they typically constitute a larger group than any individual sect, and if you count in those who are formally part of a church but have never seen said church from the inside, you’ll end up with a large majority. For this majority of Europeans, Christmas scarcely has any religious significance. It is a cultural thing, a family thing. You do not need to be a Christian to celebrate Christmas. It is simply nice to have one or two major holidays where you get together with friends and family and do Traditional Things You Do Not Do During The Rest Of The Time™. For all I care, that could be winter and summer solstice, or Beltain and Samhain, but I grew up and live in Europe, so it happens to be Christmas and Easter, plus New Year which is totally secular anyway. If I were living a predominantly Muslim country, I’d be perfectly happy to go along with Muslim holidays. There would certainly be the looming fear of intruding into something to which I, as a non-Muslim, are not entitled to, but that would be out of consideration for the religious feelings of others, not mine. The moment I would be reasonably sure that our joining is appropriate for Muslims, I would happily join in and have my kids join in, hoping that they learn from the experience. We would still celebrate Christmas as a family, and if my neighbors should happen to wish me Merry Christmas or even give us a card or some candy to the kids, I would be deeply touched. However, even if virtually nobody around us would be aware of Christmas or recognize it in any way, I’m fairly certain that I would not experience the feelings you described. In fact, this total lack of awareness would be what I expected, since after all, I’m usually not aware of Eid either when I’m not in a Muslim country at the time.

    So in a way, I’m doing exactly what you do, too: I think of how I would like or expect to be treated in a country with a different majority religion, and I treat members of a minority religion in my own country accordingly. So, in terms of Kant’s imperative we’re both pretty cool. It just turns out that our expectations are different, and therefore we sometimes fail to meet the others’ expectations.

    As to the reasons for these different expectations, please do not think we’re less considerate about other people’s religion. We’re just considerate in a different way. In Europe, freedom of religion is interpreted differently from the way it is interpreted in the Middle East, or the US for that matter. Not only is the freedom to be an atheist an integral part of it for us, we even tend to emphasize the “negative” aspect of freedom of religion more than the “positive”. In other words, your right to not be bothered with my religion, or any religion at all for that matter, is at least as important – if not more important – as my right to practice my religion. Consequently, my major concern with my Muslim neighbors is not so much being considerate of their religion (although I would not serve them alcohol or suchlike unless I positively know that they’re not observant in this regard) as avoiding to push my religion on them. For the first few years after moving in a place with Muslim neighbors, I tiptoed around them at Christmas, insecure of whether it would be inappropriate for me to give them cookies and a Christmas card. Doing so would have been my natural impulse, as I like them, and Christmas is not a religious thing for me. On the other hand, I was very reluctant since it might have been a religious thing for them, and I knew that participating in a Christian holiday could be considered haram for a Muslim. And in no case did I want to do something offensive or insensitive. We’re beyond that now in this particular case, but in principle, that’s how we mainstream liberal Europeans operate: If in doubt, leave your religion at home (if you have any to start with, that is, and even if you do not, leave all the things at home which may look slightly religious to the untrained eye). If religion is kept at home, nobody will be offended and we’ll all get along fine.

    We, that is mainstream liberal/ left-leaning non-xenophobic Europeans will go to great lengths to make sure that we do not put any obstacles in a Muslim’s way, or inadvertently exclude them. We’ll make sure that halal food is served at a school even if there is only one observant Muslim pupil. In fact, some schools have stopped serving pork at all, which is of course being scandalized by the “islam critic” department as the beginning of our imminent collective downfall. I’ll gladly and ferociously take part in any demo against the “islam critic” department, or against a hijab ban. We’ll make sure that despite teaching local traditions which are historically connected to Christianity, preschools are very strictly religiously neutral. However, that is where we stop. Until I read your blog post, I only worried about doing something wrong (such as thoughtlessly wishing merry Christmas in a half-sleepy state in the morning, or serving sausages which contain meat), but I never worried about failing to do something that alludes to my neighbors being Muslim (such as wishing a happy Eid).

    Well, I know better now, and I’ll try to remember googling the dates for 2013 in time. My neighbors might fall over in shock if I wish them a happy Eid, but I’ll give it a try.

    1. You have left me with much to consider, Irene. Thank you for commenting with such insight, thoughtfulness, and respect. Much appreciated.

      1. Nadia, I don’t know whether you look at comments on your old blog post, but just in case you do: I now realize that I had my Eids mixed up, and that the second is actually the more important one, but never mind -the first one is approaching, and operation “surprise your Muslim friends and neighbors” is officially under way. Thanks for giving me this nudge!

        And thank you for this blog in general as well, and for sharing your thoughts and journeys.

      2. I read all the comments that are posted to my blog, Irene. And I appreciate each and every one of them. There actually isn’t a more important Eid. They are both equally important. One is three days long (after Ramadan) and the second is four days long (after the Pilgrimage). There is no greater or lesser importance to either. And do send a note about operation “surprise your Muslim friends and neighbors” and how it went! That’s really exciting! I’m expecting that this Eid will be much easier for me. I have all my children, my sister, and my niece with me this year. So basically anyone I would have been celebrating with in Egypt I am celebrating with here in the UK this year. We fasted Ramadan together in the UK as well and it was significantly easier for me than last year when I was alone.

      3. Dear Nadia,

        Although I can imagine it was strained by the news from Egypt, I hope you still had a great Eid with your family. Somewhat belatedly, as I needed some time to reflect, here is my report on “operation surprise your Muslim friends and neighbors”:

        The easy part was thinking about some small favours, gifts and cards for people I actually knew to be Muslims. The hard part was, well, finding out who is actually Muslim. As I said, religion is considered a really private matter around here, so outside of the circle of my closest friends I often really know the religious affiliations even of people with whom I like to spend time, and of whom I know quite a lot of other private stuff. There are a lot of people of whom I have no Idea whether they are Christians, atheists or something else. In fact, that is true for most people I know. And once I started to think about it, I realized that I had filed away some families under “probably Muslim” due to their heritage (for the purpose of not serving pork and being cautious with Christmas cards), but that I did not know whether they actually are. That’s not such a trivial matter as you may think, since with one single exception I know nobody who wears a headscarf, observes Ramadan and/ or shuns alcohol. I mean, I could have asked straightforward, but again, religion is a delicate thing and I certainly did not want to embarrass somebody. In some cases, inconspicuously steering talk to issue of pork did help, but in one case I ran out of ideas and ultimately had to ask rather bluntly. It did turn out somewhat embarrassing for both sides. The talk went like this:

        Me (hides sweets and self-made Eid card behind back): “I have to ask you a rather personal question. You are Muslims, are you?”
        Neighbor (looks panicky, turns to husband for help, husband fervently inspects fingernails): “Well… yes… technically we are, but…” (suddenly looks relieved, thinking she knows where the question came from) “…but we do drink alcohol!” (husband nods enthusiastically)
        Me: “I know, but that’s not why I was asking. I was asking because…” (presents gift and card) “…Eid Mubarak!”
        Neighbor (now totally shocked): “Why, thank you, this is so nice…” (turns to husband and whispers) “Is it Eid today?! Really?!”
        Me (embarrassed, particularly as my husband had predicted this outcome): “Erm, yes. I checked on the internet.”
        Other neighbor, who works with Syrian refugees: “She’s right, really. We had a big celebration today.”
        Neighbor (inspects card more closely, turns to husband again): “Look! She even put ‘Eid Mubarak’ on the card!!” (turns to me) “Thank you! How do you know these words?”

        So. Yes, there are European Muslims – well, nominal Muslims in the sense of not having converted to any other religion and shying away from the term “atheist”, pretty much like a lot of nominally Christian agnostics do – who do not know when its Eid. In this particular case, they explained that as they do not observe Ramadan, they feel they do not really have a right to celebrate Eid. To be honest, this was something which would not have crossed my mind before: I know virtually zero Catholics who fast during lent, and yet they all celebrate Easter, just like agnostics with a Christian background do. Painting eggs does not need to have any religious significance after all. The tradition is older than Christianity anyway, so there. So why, I’m asking you, should non-observant Muslims or “nominally Muslim agnostics” (for the lack of a better term) not be entitled to their Eid? But again it turns out that just because that’s how we roll, we should not always assume that it’s the same for anybody else. Apparently, at least part of the nominal Muslims around here don’t celebrate any holidays at all, neither the Christian nor the Muslim ones. I mean, they sort of go with the flow at Christmas, give gifts to the kids of their Christian friends and may even put up some seasonal decorations, but they do not really celebrate. They may celebrate Ramadan as long as their kids are small for the benefit of the kids, but stop after the kids have grown. Anyway, in the end we all overcame the short moment of mutual embarrassment, they were touched that I had thought of their holiday even if they had not, and we had a great night.

        Apart from this incident, the operation was a success, to the point of actually bringing about tears in one case. Incidentally, that was the one case of a family I knew to be religious to a certain degree.

        So what conclusion should I draw? On the surface, it looks like “Give Eid gifts only to Muslims where the women wear headscarves” is the way to go, but I don’t think so. I think I’ll keep it up anyway, and simply take the risk of slight embarrassment and/ or being regarded as totally crazy. I want people to know that I care, and probably – like many of us – I’m not showing it often enough anyway. I just hope it comes across right.

        So, again, thank you for giving me this nudge. I think it started a new tradition!

    2. Erm, “sausages which contain meat” should have read “sausages which contain pork”. I’m just tired, not unaware of the destiniction between a Muslim and a vegetarian. Just so you know ;-)

  16. Nadia,
    Thank you for your thoughtful and eye-opening blog. As for the point you bring up, that you wish western countries worked harder to make you feel “at home” as a Muslim, I offer the following: I think there is a chicken-or-egg argument to be made here. Your hope is that Western non-Muslims will begin tossing around “eid mubarak!” greetings or decorating for your holiday so that you can feel welcomed and more likely to integrate into Western society. But I suggest you consider the opposite: When Muslims choose to integrate themselves into our society, that is when they will be welcomed and recognized as friendly souls, and will hear “eid mubarak!” from their neighbors on the street!

    I married a Muslim and live in a southern US city. There are two mosques here, an Islamic Society, and a school for children through eighth grade. Muslims here are very friendly in the superficial way, but they are certainly a clannish, set-apart people who socialize mostly with each other, send their kids to a special school to keep them ‘safe’ from Western influence, believe that Western women like me are immoral and immodest, and believe my culture is sinful and a threat to their children. Muslim men have even refused to shake my hand when I extend it in politeness — whatever their religious excuses, this is a terrible insult in the West which implies that I am either vastly inferior, or dirty, or untrustworthy! And Muslim men have left America for Saudi Arabia with their wives and daughters in tow, claiming that even corrupt unjust Saudi — where foreign workers are slaves, the justice system is illogical, and women go faceless — is “a better environment for raising children” than evil USA.

    In fact, this is why we still talk about “westerners” as the polar oppostie of “Muslims”. When are Muslims (those who live in the west) going to join us instead of opposing us and be willing to describe themselves as Westerners too??

    So, if you want to hear “Eid Mubarak!” shouted by non-Muslims on the streets of western countries, I suggest that will happen when Muslims in those countries happily embrace their identity — not just as Muslims, but also as Westerners like the rest of us.

  17. Like the article and live it!
    It is true that being distant from your own culture gives you/us time to reflect and be fair in our judgement. All cultures have their goods and bads, their overwhelming and annoying features.
    Being in a Muslim country it’s easy to focus on the bads and feel suffocated.
    Being in a Western country you see the bads of other cultures and have the time to appreciate where your coming from or parts of it. Only you have a choice to expose yourself to it with the degree you require and you understand that you can still respect it all! For disagreement doesn’t mean disrespect. A concept not often found in Arabic cultures!
    I still however believe in the integration, and I don’t think it’s a country’s main responsibility to make us integrate, no! The country is responsible for making us welcomed and respected. And they do to a great extent! (At least far more than other Eu countries!)
    How much involvement we offer to others is the key in our hands for others to be involved.
    Some Muslims prefer to shy away and mingle with their counterparts only. Others prefer to mingle with everyone but share a different side of themselves only depending on the audience.
    I on the other hand believe that people are able to be involved in our lives and our practices and celebrations as much as we want them to!
    I don’t need to pretend or change parts of me for people are able to handle me as I am! It all depends on how we come across and feel about ourselves! and If they can’t then they are not the ones I need in my life anyway.
    It only took me one time to ask for a praying room to make all my colleagues aware and involved in my praying routines. They would assist me when I need to and we’d schedule timings around them when required!
    It only took me one time to mention that I eat halal food for my friends, colleagues and children’s schools to accommodate it! (Surprisingly enough it’s rather my Egyptian friends who like to argue with me about that or attempt to force me through embarrassment to eat non halal food!)
    It only took me one time to alert my colleagues of Ramadan for them to wish me a happy Ramadan every following year.
    It only took me one time to take goodie bags to my girls’schools on Eid day for the whole school to celebrate Eid in their assembly especiakly for my daughter the only Muslim in the whole school!
    Integration is how much you give the community and it will give you back!
    Integration is how much we can show that Islam is fit for the purpose of living anywhere and with anyone one, and the community will assist you in that – only if you want to!
    It takes some confidence in what we’re doing and the confidence only comes when we know why we are doing it and are able to share it with the whole word without intimidation!

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