I feel Eid is a particularly difficult holiday for me these days.
We have two big religious holidays in Islam. They are both called Eid. One lasts for three days and follows fasting the month of Ramadan. The other lasts for four days and happens towards the end of the annual Pilgrimage. The Eid following Ramadan is a particularly happy one for me because it signifies going back to eating, drinking and sleeping the way I normally do. On the first day of Eid in my family, we’d go to my father’s house first thing in the morning. My sister would have inflated a ridiculous number of balloons and left them all over the house. She’d have lights and decorations everywhere. There would be a corner where she placed presents for everyone, and we’d arrive carrying presents for everyone as well. They’d all be placed in the corner and we’d then spend about half an hour opening them all up and getting excited about what was waiting for us and what we found. My father would always give every single one of us some money. We’d then spend about three hours arguing about which restaurant to go to for lunch. And to solve this annual dilemma, we always ended up going to Chili’s, because it’s the only place that the children ever wanted to go to. In the evening, we’d visit members of my ex-husband’s extended family. Our children would get money gifts from everyone and would come out of the day very rich. Over the period of the next two days, we’d visit more family and sometimes friends. It’s not all that unlike how many people celebrate Christmas, although things vary from one family to another. Many people, for example, use the days off to spend Eid on Egypt’s north coast.
Since I’ve come to the UK, Eid just seems to be getting more and more difficult. I am not connected to a mosque and do not feel a desire to be. I almost have an aversion to mosques, mainly because of the way women and men are separated in them, but also because of the expectedly overt religiosity displayed in them. That no longer represents who I am or how I want to be. But there are no other places where people gather for Eid that I’m aware of without that separation and without that overt religiosity. My issue with mosques also means that I feel like I’m not represented by anyone. When political figures want to hear from Muslims, they go to the mosques. I’m not at the mosques. So who represents me? Where do I belong?
I get upset that at Christmas, whether I was living in Egypt or since I moved to the UK, I go out of my way to say merry Christmas to all my work colleagues across the world, but that has only very rarely been reciprocated to me during Eid. It wasn’t even reciprocated when I worked at a media organization that had the word “Islam” in its name. I have a very small number of really nice non-Muslim Facebook friends who make sure to say happy Eid to me every year. That always touches me. But that really is the extent of it. And I find myself always wondering: Why do I go out of my way to celebrate Christmas with my non-Muslim family in the UK and friends, but almost no one goes out of their way to even recognize that I’m celebrating my important holiday? Why is their holiday more important than mine? Is this what life as a minority feels like? Because it absolutely sucks.
Please don’t think that I’m trying to guilt-trip the people who are reading this. I don’t want anyone’s pity. This isn’t really even about me. I’m just trying to describe what it feels like to be someone like me: someone who moved to a foreign country and can’t help feeling very foreign despite her being half American, despite her having grown up in the US, and despite her having visited countries all over the world her whole life. I feel foreign among this country’s citizens. Perhaps even worse, I feel foreign among many of the Muslims living in this country. I know there are other Muslims like me here, I just haven’t managed to stumble across many of them where I live.
Eid has come and gone. Two of my children are over visiting so it’s been nice having them with me. At least that’s something. But my extended family lives so far away now. We no longer have our balloons or our gifts or our family feuds about having to eat at Chili’s yet another Eid. All my close friends live in Egypt or have spread out in many countries all over the world, searching for safety and a better life for their children.
Maybe I am throwing a pity party. Maybe I just need to accept that you can’t have it all. I’ve made my choices. So maybe I should just swallow my feelings and live with it. Or maybe I’m just finding everything difficult this year and the small things feel much worse than they actually are. Maybe I’ve just been crap at doing the work necessary to build a community of people around me. Regardless, I’m missing my family and friends. I’m missing our traditions. I’m missing feeling part of a community.