Last week, I celebrated Eid-al Adha, one of the two major Muslim holidays of the year, marking the end of Hajj pilgrimage. People like me living away from their family and unable to go home have to make do on our own. We follow the traditions we grew up with, deeply rooted in our parents’ respective homelands and implemented by them in their new home away from home, with the hopes that their America-raised children would replicate them one day.
This year, Eid could have been on September 11, as the holiday is determined by the lunar calendar and thus, the date changes every year. For myself and my family, we were quietly hoping that Eid would not take place on the date marking the horrific attacks that took place fifteen years ago and killed thousands.
“This year, our faith is also at the center of a peculiar election in America.”
This year, our faith is also at the center of a peculiar election in America, where Islam not only (inevitably) links to foreign policy, but to fear, hate, and the freedom to live as ourselves.
When my parents moved to Boston in 1997, they became members of the Bangladeshi American community, celebrating holidays with people they never knew before and only connected by their shared ethnic background and the American dream. Since then, Eid has been marked by wearing new salwar kameezes sent over by relatives in Dhaka, freshly ironed by my mother as soon as we woke up to go to Eid prayers.
It was a day of overindulgence on food, only possible because my otherwise strict parents allowed us to skip school to honor the occasion. People irrespective of their religion, including neighbors and colleagues would be invited to gather at our home to share a meal and celebrate our culture.
“When my parents first started celebrating Eid in America, they were not scared to be Muslims.”
When my parents first started celebrating Eid in America, they were not scared to be Muslims. They didn’t have to apologize for being Muslim, or help other Americans feel safe around us.
Even after 9/11 when Muslim communities feared gathering for the morning Eid prayer, my family made a point to attend them. It was important to make sure we participated in the traditions that made us a distinct genre of Americans.
This was an especially American experience for us, because my mother did not grow up going to Eid prayers in Bangladesh, where it was uncommon for women or families to go to morning prayer gatherings. Here in the U.S., these prayers served as a gathering for Muslims from all over the world dressed in their best traditional or non-traditional attire. It was more of a cultural experience where we could bask in the diversity of our religion and shared experiences.
But as years have passed, and Muslim relations within our communities have strained due to increasing Islamophobia not just in the U.S. but around the world, the fear of gathering as a community continues to follow us. In what is supposed to be a day of celebration, we now start our holiday with a moment of hesitation.
“In what is supposed to be a day of celebration, we now start our holiday with a moment of hesitation.”
There is not a minority group in America that has to feel fear or hesitation when they wake up to celebrate their religious holiday, especially when that minority group belongs to a faith having about 1.6 billion followers globally.
This year on Eid, my apartment did not have the aroma of saffron and freshly cooked khashir mangsho (goat curry) of my parents’ house in the morning. I did not greet my parents for salami (money given to children as tokens of their respect), and I couldn’t attend the Eid prayers, opting for morning meetings at work instead.
I went to the one Halal meat store in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, found with a quick search online rather than my parents’ method of asking around random community members (my dad still thinks their method is more trustworthy than star ratings on apps). I purchased four pounds of fresh goat meat from the Pakistani butcher because my mom told me that not having leftover meat on Eid Al-Adha is bad luck. I donated to a charity abroad online instead of distributing the meat like we did at home growing up (per tradition). In addition to the unworn clothes left over from the last Eid, I purchased new salwar kameezes online, hoping that they fit and would arrive on time from Lahore.
“I cooked khashir mangsho for the first time.”
After talking to my mom for instructions on a recipe that has never been written down, I cooked khashir mangsho for the first time. I did this after work, wearing my new salwar kameez, and patiently stirring the pot of meat, yogurt, and spices until the tender pieces fell off the bone. This went along with steaming pulao made in the rice cooker for the sake of short cuts, chicken korma, cumin-crusted cauliflower, and a bowl of red onions and cucumber in mustard oil that I finally found at the Halal market. It’s really the smell from home that I miss the most.
Some friends ate the meal with me that Monday night. We talked about Hillary and Donald, the Night Of and its feature of a Pakistani British actor, the tech scene, and ended with an episode of The Daily Show. I snapped pictures to show my family to make sure they knew I wasn’t lonely. I tweeted them to show off my cooking, along with so many others in America who unapologetically celebrated Eid Al-Adha on September 12.
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Olinda Hassan is a first generation, Bangladeshi Muslim American who works in tech policy in San Francisco. She is a proud graduate of Wellesley College, which may be home to the first female president in America, and she has an MPA from Cornell University, before which she spent a year teaching English in Bangladesh as a Fulbright Fellow. She loves to connect to her roots through food.