Lima Al-Azzeh

Eid Al-Fitr or Why All the Muslims in Vancouver Have Come Out of the Woodworks Today

In Cultural Anomalies, Vancouver Events on September 10, 2010 at 10:47 am

Jalalia Jame Mosque, Rochdale photo by Michael Ely

If you’re taking any form of public transportation in Vancouver today, particularly the Canada Line, you may notice an influx of head-covered muslims (male and female) leaving you to wonder: “What’s with all the muslims in Vancouver today?”

Today happens to be Eid Al-Fitr, the conclusion of Ramadan, an annual holy observance that lasts for about 29-30 days*, based on the lunar cycle, wherein muslims refrain from eating, drinking, or engaging in sexual relations from dawn to dusk.

“Fitr” literally translates to “feast” where family and friends commune peacefully to break bread and share in traditional homemade fare. I always thought that was the cool thing about the religion I was born into, sure they put you through dizzying hell as you try to avoid consuming anything including water* for 8 hours or more in a day (we used to loathe it when Ramadan coincided with a summer month as those days were especially arduous) but the fact that there’s a built in all-you-can-eat at the end of it truly shows the mercy of God.

For those of you who still don’t quite “get it” up to this point let me explain it like so: it’s akin to “Thanksgiving” but it takes longer, doesn’t offer up the goods immediately, and is more rooted in faith. Also, nobody dares get wasted at dinner, it’s just unheard of.

Growing up, Ramadan was always my favourite time of year. I would participate in fasting alongside my family and would come together with them to feast at dusk. My mother was a pillar of strength, preparing our delicious meals all the while fasting herself. If you don’t know what restraint means, I would suggest you call her up and ask her.

But more than the feast of food, which let’s face it I can go on about for days, it was the general feeling that I enjoyed the most. There was a certain hush that fell over busy cities, especially as the Azan (muslim call to prayer) would break the quiet at dawn, repeat throughout the day*, and finally announce itself at dusk to indicate the commencement and ending of that day’s fast. It was a time to convene in kindness with family and friends. Sometimes, you would leave the front door of your home open to allow your gracious visitors to be welcomed in. Whoever has said there will never be peace in the Middle East was never there during the holy month.

To fill our time in the late evening, we would often venture out to the large gathering spaces set out by hotels and restaurants. These would be large tents filled with long communal tables where family and friends can fill up an entire area to smoke hookah together, talk, play cards, listen to music and delight in further delicacies such as tea, turkish coffee and sweets. I won’t trouble you here with a long and passionate ode dedicated to  the incomparable little cheese sandwiches they would serve, sufficed to say that a kraft singles grilled cheese ain’t got nothing on a fried haloumi and pita triangle.

There would be sounds of light female chattering mixed in with the tenor of male laughter, the Arabic music playing over the speakers brought us the twangy, mesmerizing sounds of the oud. The fragrance of Jasmine from the tea  mixed gracefully with the smells of various flavoured tobaccos: strawberry, apple, grape permeating the air with a heady fruit-punch sensuousness. It was a feast of senses at the best of times.

A few days after one of our most memorable gatherings beneath the flowy white tents, my sister and I returned from school to find the door to our house wide open, only this time instead of expecting to greet guests jovially, we were expecting black-clad mourners. We were told that our dad had died in a car accident on his way to work.

I’ll spare you the details of what transpired in the weeks after. It was hell, and truth be told whether because of my youth or perhaps a willful attempt to block out certain aspects of the aftermath, I don’t actually remember all that much.

We were told a story, however, that despite all the grief filled our hearts with a little bit of peace. My father’s brothers were driving in a car behind him that day. They said he pulled over to fill up the car with gas, and he took a moment to pray. Whether you believe in God, or subscribe to a religion, or have any sort of faith at all, I think you would agree that this moment says something. It was a testament to the true nature of my father: dedicated and devout until his bittersweet end.

So while you’re out today, faced with masses of muslims making their way to various mosques around the lower mainland, or to a large space where they can all pray and eat together, I would urge you to push out any sniggers of jokes in your head about their funny looking outfits and their rather brash and guttural tone of speech, and instead look at them with tolerance, peace and kindness. If not for them, or this holy day, then for me, my family, and most of all for my father.

Wishing you all, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity and gender, a Eid Mubarak.

* July 10, 2012 – Thanks to a faithful reader, Muhammed, for pointing out some inaccuracies in this text. I’ve edited them so as not to misinform future readers about Islam and the holy month.

  1. Lima, this is a lovely post. Eid Mubarak to you and your loved ones, and I hope the streets of Vancouver are filled with love and tolerance and lots of food.

  2. May he rest in Peace Lima.. our beloved Mounzer

  3. […] come a long way from our own Eid, which always had a strict emphasis on humility. Eid-Al-Fitr never called for any ostentatious decorations, and though family and friends would give us […]

  4. You are indeed a very good writer. But your knowledge about Islam is limited. Please don’t get it wrong. You have written that RAMADAN is a 40 day affair which is wrong. Its actually 30 or 29 days depending on the moon sighting and the next day is EID.You wrote “sure they put you through dizzying hell as you try to avoid consuming anything but water for 8 hours or more in a day” which is again wrong. The fact is that you have to avoid consuming anything (including water) both orally or by injection from dawn till dusk. Lastly again I quote “There was a certain hush that fell over busy cities, especially as the Azan (muslim call to prayer) would break the quiet at dawn and again at dusk to indicate the commencement and ending of that day’s fast”. The Muslim call to prayer is not 2 times in a day buts 5 times a day. May ALLAH enhances your knowledge. Keep blogging!!!

    • Hi Muhammad,

      Thanks for your insights and for checking out my blog. I’m recalling my experiences with Ramadan from memory, so I appreciate the corrections. I actually knew that you do not consume any water, having fasted myself, that was an editing slip up! Thank you for catching that, I’ll be sure to correct it. I’ll have to make sure my memories match up to basic facts next time. All the best!

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