Thursday, 7 July 2016

Eid Mubarik

Eid Mubarik from sweet Liberia!

At least 20% of the population is Muslim yet Eid is not a public holiday! The roads were empty this morning - hardly any traffic - because everyone was at the mosque for Eid prayers or visiting each other’s homes. I hope both the Eids are declared public holidays in Liberia in the next 5 years (and it is mandatory to give Eidee to all children below 5 years of age).
These are photographs outside the mosque on Newport Street: a very festive and wonderful atmosphere. Kids were getting Eidee and eating ice-cream. Fathers were carrying their kids in their arms. Nearly everyone was posing in their new clothes and taking photographs. And, almost everyone asked me to take their photos.
What surprises me sometimes is how little different religious communities know about each other: customs, traditions and beliefs. Most of my staff over the years have been Christians and, they seem to have very little idea on Muslims holidays but I may be wrong. Can people really live side by side and, be some comfortably wrapped up in one's religious beliefs without acknowledging the other? 

One will meet Christians in Liberia without knowledge of how many Muslims are in Liberia or even what is Eid. It surprises one a little at how faiths can reside side by side. At the same time, I've met Liberian families where half of them are Muslim and half Christian. Children were free to choose their faiths.

I joined Mama Susu for Iftar a few times during Ramadan. She fasted nearly the whole month, except for one day when she lost her temper and hurled some profanities at her staff. She welcomed everyone to her table, believers and nonbelievers, Christians and Muslims. In fact, everyone around her had not even fasted.

I also hosted an Iftar for a couple of Pakistani families and some international friends. Although I do not fast nor have been a believer for quite a while, it gave me a sense of community. It felt good to prepare Iftar for those who were fasting and celebrate common cultural heritage. My fasting guests knew I was not fasting nor was religious but were gracious. In fact, I was invited to an Iftar the week before and really enjoyed the experience.

I feel a bond with fellow Pakistanis. I also have a Muslim cultural identity, even if I am not any longer a believer. As much as I would try, I can't simply shrug it off. Living abroad, one feels pangs of homesickness, duty, and longing now and then. For example, just before I left for Pakistan earlier in the year, I was asked by our neighbour, Al Haji, to get me a Pakistani shalwar kameez. He said the copies that one found in Liberia were not good. I made sure I got him a brand new suit from F-10 Markaz and was very pleasant to gift it to him on my return.

I regularly pop in albums of ghazals, Coke Studio and TV dramas into my player and, enjoy feeling closer to Pakistan. And, now that I am hurtling faster than ever to my 40s, I often wonder what I am doing in Liberia and, how will I ever make sure Kavita learns flawless Urdu and, grows up loving her heritage just as I did.

I used to earnestly fast in my teenage years and into my 20s. It was a spiritual and physical challenge to fast, to get up in the morning for Sehri, offer my prayers during the day and then look forward to the breaking of the fast. And to keep doing it for a month was hard but rewarding. There was a real sense of accomplishment. Things I used to pray for were harmony in family, my parent's health, good grades and prosperity for Pakistan. In fact, our father had often mentioned to us what one needed to pray for, especially for one's parents. My mother used to try to complete the whole Quran during the month. She had stopped fasting after a while but was busy cooking up delicious foods in the kitchen.

As I reshuffle my beliefs but still cling on to the human celebration of love, kinship, generosity, and tolerance, I would like to say Eid Mubarik!

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