Yesterday, Eid Al-Fitr started. There are two Eids annually and this one is the smaller of the two, it comes at the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan where Muslims worldwide have fasted from sunrise to sunset every day for a month. It’s a beautiful time to meet friends, family and loved loves in mosques, parks, restaurants etc. Traditionally you buy new clothes, take a long bath the night before and exchange gifts – usually money – given from the elders to the youngers. It really is a great atmosphere. Of course the full infectious effects are somewhat lost in the West because the streets aren’t alive in the same way. I still haven’t experienced it the way it ought to be done but my mum tells me magical stories and Buzzfeed does good summations. Yesterday was the first Eid I’ve spent at home in a long time: me and my mum went to a meal with Iraqis in the community, I then swung by my father’s. My cousin offered me watermelon and Arabic sweets. My father wore a grey suit, hair cut and cleanly shaven. His eyes creased with laughter and his table laden with baklava. It was, all in all, a beautiful and peaceful day.
But there was something very rueful about it too. I couldn’t have a conversation without someone mentioning the slaughter in Gaza, their faces suddenly crippling, as if feeling guilty for the blessing they have. Or maybe I read that in the lines around their mouths, it was certainly how I felt. At the buffet meal I ate traditional Syrian and Palestinian salads and felt guilty, thinking how my brothers and sisters in those countries have no ends to meet. Thoughts of Gaza permeated my actions throughout the day, I didn’t want to buy new clothes and when me and mum prayed side by side, I saw a tear roll down her cheek as I heard her mutter ‘Gaza’. I prayed hard for a free Palestine and my heart ached. As ever, I could voice arguments regarding Israel’s incomprehensible war crimes and all the horrible deaths taking place, not least the sickening news of 110 killed in 24 hours and nine kids murdered playing in a playground. The stories coming out of Gaza as the ‘ceasefire’ came to its inevitably bloody close, prove yet again what little they have left. Today in Gaza, with over 20 mosques shelled, Palestinians are choosing to pray in schools (though recent events have proven that even that is a liberty). Visiting the graves of ancestors is a tradition on Eid, but the Palestinians in Gaza don’t need to visit, they are still searching for and burying their 1000+ martyrs and the horror of the situation is amplified when one of our most holy days is now locked in a loving embrace with genocide. But, Eid is beautiful and Eid should be pure. Every day gets marred with the dirt of inhumanity so yesterday; I wanted to think of Palestinians in dignity, without bloodied shrouds and stricken and bereaved parents. I want to give the Palestinians the heroism and humanity they so rightly deserve.
People frequently ask me why Muslims fast. Well, on Saturday I joined 45,000 others to peacefully march from the Israeli embassy in Kensington to Parliament Square organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. It was an amazing atmosphere with families, beautiful weather and people of all class, creed, age and religion coming together against the horrors of Zionism. The weather was really warm and I was fasting, I left Westminster feeling light-headed and faint arriving home desperate for just a glass of water. My mum, seeing how pale I was, urged me to drink but I lay down determined to see it through. It was in that moment that I realised why we fast. The Palestinians trapped in Gaza cannot drink 95% of their water, they cannot be guaranteed one safe place in which to lie down. We fast to really understand the effects of deprivation – the most effective way to feel empathy from afar. No ivory towers, silent auctions or gala dinners needed… just mutual hunger and thirst. It solidifies a cause like little else can. And with it comes Eid, the cathartic moment of release.
There was something ruefully bittersweet about yesterday’s London Eid because all the people I spoke to felt like part of the estranged, ruptured Muslim diaspora. This was Eid in a home away from home. Today, we were Palestinians, Syrians and Iraqis with no home to go back to and little family to unite with. This was our day of celebration but also our day of mourning, for our family in faith in Gaza, and in a smaller way, for their plight reflected in ourselves.
Like: Zena Agha