Happy Eid to all who celebrate! One of my friends from Egypt, as a way of joke, says that “Eid Mubarak” does not seem appropriate anymore given the circumstances.
This year has been somehow challenging and full of unexpected surprises, so I am hoping for a new beginning full of new projects and worship. I am also wishing the same for everyone else who is open to receiving it and I wish for all of Allah’s great blessings to all of you.
As usual, worship is one of those things that are a challenge in itself for many Muslims and converts. The idea that prayer and religious celebrations must remain at the front of our priorities is not always realistic.
While in university, at the beginning of each semester, the sister responsible for what they called “women’s affairs” used to send all female members an email saying: “Dear sisters please do not enroll in classes that conflict with Jumm’a prayer. It is your duty as a Muslim and you should organize your lives according to worshiping responsibilities.” Yes, some people think it is not mandatory for women to attend Friday prayers but this is not the point.
The issue at hand is that normative assumptions on how, where and where everyone should worship do not necessarily reflect many converts’ situations. As a student, I did not have an option. There were classes that were only offered on Friday afternoons and without them I would not have a degree today.
The same was for Ramadan. Living in Canada we still face a lot of issues of religious accommodation; and while working as a student ombudsperson in my university, I met with lots of students who faced discrimination and were not accommodated in their faculties on religious holidays and the alike. That meant that many Muslims did not have a chance to attend iftars or that they would have to write exams before breaking the fast at the end of the day. This issue tended to be more challenging for “non-visible” Muslims (i.e. Muslim women not wearing hijab).While in Canada there is a big debate on how and why to address religious accommodation, and some think that it should not happen, the reality is that it is necessary… but I digress…
As far as the holidays go there are many converts that still do not see them as holidays, including me. First of all, my family does not celebrate them because they are part of a different tradition. Then, I find it hard to attend events in my local mosque. Leaving aside the issues that I mentioned in another post regarding my relationship with the mosque, I find that events, classes and prayers are organized thinking of those who have a more flexible job, those who are “visible” Muslims, Muslim women who do not work past 5 p.m., and in many occasions, for women who do not have young children.
For me for example, I will not be able to attend Eid prayers this year because I have a job that starts earlier than the prayer time in my community and since I am not a “visible” Muslim my chances of getting the day off because of religious reasons are minimal.
In addition, Eid is also a family holiday. My non-convert Muslim friends tend to have massive family feasts and spend the day or weekend visiting family when possible. For converts that is a bit more challenging. Unless you are married to a Muslim and have your own family, you are stuck trying to organize a group of converts that face the same time-accommodation-situation issues as you, ending up in a no-one-showed-up potluck.
A friend of mine, a convert too, suggest that converts should be invited to family gatherings for them not to spend the holidays alone. However, this is not always an option or even comfortable, which further contributes to some converts feeling pushed aside.
This feeling is often not restricted to holidays, but follows some of us to daily life where we face challenges performing prayers (which I will discuss in another post). On one hand, I do think that we need to reconsider how converts are included into Muslim communities; and by this, I do not mean the patronizing attitude of “I will teach you because I am the proper Muslim.” Rather, I hope for leadership in our communities to be more understanding of the situations and the broad diversity of members that attend congregations (i.e. I may not be able to come and pray in the morning, but I could come at lunch time). Similarly, converts, especially those without families, could benefit from engaging together. It does not have to be the typical “pseudo-family-dinner,” but instead something that can accommodate other tastes, experiences and situations.
Have a great Eid Al-Adha!