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Muslim Americans Prepare for Eid-ul-Fitr


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When American Muslims celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr they observe the same religious traditions familiar to Muslims around the world, but celebrate in a distinctly American way, as people from diverse national and cultural backgrounds come together to share the feast.


Imam Mohamed Magid from the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) center in Sterling, Virginia, says that Muslims in America look forward to Eid-ul-Fitr for several reasons. Besides the religious observances, breaking the monthlong Ramadan fast and socializing, Muslims receive special greetings from the president of the United States. “It makes Muslims feel their holiday is part of mainstream American holidays,” the imam told the Washington File.


It has been a tradition to mark the occasion of eid in the White House since George H. W. Bush was president. The Clinton White House continued the observance, as has George W. Bush. In 2001, a U.S. postage stamp was issued commemorating eid.


According to Magid, new technology has made it easier to plan eid celebrations. Now Muslims accurately can calculate when the new moon will signal the beginning of eid in their locality. No longer must they wait for an imam to sight the moon. “They can know far ahead of time when to take off work,” he said.


The ADAMS center has a congregation of 5,070 families from diverse Muslim traditions. The mosque is known for its openness and involvement in interfaith dialogues. Sunni and Shiia worship there together. “I think we find a common ground being Muslims and Americans. We focus on the common good, working and studying together,” Magid said. “Respect for all in Islam must be in a mosque,” he said. “Respecting each other and living in harmony.” He said his mosque initiated a Sunni-Shiia dialogue, which is continuing nationwide. “We hope we can send the dialogue to Pakistan and Iraq” and other places where there is conflict between the two sects, he said.


Most families observe the same general eid customs of going to the mosque after sunrise. “Before anything we offer zakat,” or alms to the poor, said Moroccan-American Saad. In America, this is customarily done through the mosque. Then special eid prayers are said. Usually, on Eid-ul-Fitr, the faithful pray in a large group in the mosque, outdoors or in some other venue where an imam will give a sermon. The Ramadan fast is broken with sweets. Everyone wears new clothes -- especially children are dressed in bright, new outfits. Later, most families celebrate with a sumptuous midday meal complete with holiday delicacies. Meeting relatives and friends is also an important part of the eid celebration.


Magid, who is originally from Sudan, says part of his eid celebration is taking his children to an amusement park for a special day of recreation. Amina, originally from Egypt, makes traditional cookies or kak-ul-fitr for her family to break the fast, as do Arab-American Muslims from the Gulf states. Iranian-American Muslims prepare a sweet, saffron-spiced rice dish and halwah in honor of the holiday. And for the big luncheon, halal meat is readily available in cities and towns with Muslim communities.


Businessman Mukit Hossain, who hails from Bangladesh, told the Washington File that on eid Bangladeshi Muslims relish vegetables fried in batter and moori, puffed rice with chickpeas. Misti doi, a thick yogurt sweetened with palm sugar and lassi, a yogurt drink, are also a must on his Eid-ul-Fitr menu.


Hossain said Bangladeshi Muslim organizations sometimes invite members of the Bangladeshi-American community to special observances. Eid sermons are delivered in English because many second-generation Bangladeshi Americans do not speak Bangala, and American Muslims have various ethnic and linguistic origins. Regarding the eid sermon, Hossain said, “If I know a person who is ultraconservative, I avoid those people because, in my humble understanding, they don’t represent Islam.”


The majority of Muslims in the United States are African Americans. South Asians are thought to be the second largest group, with Arab Americans third largest. Estimates of the Muslim population in the United States range between 3 million and 8 million. There are more than 800 mosques in the United States.


In the hectic pace of daily life, Muslim Americans have the same difficulty meeting their friends socially as do most hard-working Americans. Consequently, Hossain identifies one of the greatest joys of eid saying, “You meet a lot of people you haven’t seen in a long time.”

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