Unless you live in the State of New York (or unless your kids go to a private Islamic school), you don’t get school holidays for Eid in North America. For the past little while, Eid al Fitr has taken place during the summer holidays but Eid al Adha is fast approaching and is due to take place during the school year. This means you might need to have a chat with your child’s teacher letting them know your child will be absent on Eid. Sometimes, not all teachers are aware of Muslim holidays and may have questions for parents. We talked to Marjana Nasrallah to learn about what your child’s teacher wants to know about Eid.
Marjana Nasrallah runs a non-profit organization called PROJECT: EID AWARENESS which aims to raise awareness about Eid in public schools across America and around the globe. Project: Eid Awareness does this by providing schools with Eid vinyl banners, children’s books on the holidays, arts and crafts ideas for Eid, a chorus song and a document for teachers explaining “What is Eid?” – all completely free of charge to schools. Naturally, Marjana has a lot of experience talking to teachers and educators about Eid and in her experience, here are 2 questions teachers commonly have about Muslim holidays.
1. How many holidays do Muslims have?
2. How do Muslims celebrate?
Although these questions are pretty straightforward, here are some tips to keep in mind when answering these questions.
Don’t be preachy
Keep the conversation to the holidays. There are a lot of myths about Islam in America right now but you don’t need to start discussing theology in this conversation. The question being asked isn’t “why do Muslims celebrate these holidays” – the question is “how do Muslims celebrate”. Keep in mind that although holidays are rooted in religion, how we celebrate holidays is often a cultural expression.
Be mindful of diversity within the Muslim community
Not all Muslims are Arab, but in English, Muslim holidays are referred to by their Arabic name. When answering that there are two major holidays for Muslims, be sure to stress that not all Muslims call these holidays “Eid al Fitr” and “Eid al Adha.” Explain how it’s similar to the way we say “Christmas” in English, but in Spanish it’s called “Navidad”, or in French it’s called “Noel”.
Let your child’s teacher know what you call Muslim holidays at home based on your particular background. (Maybe you just speak English and you call these holidays by their Arabic name because that’s what they’re commonly referred to in English.)
It might also be helpful to clarify that in Arabic, all holidays are referred to as “Eid of something”. For example, even Christmas in Arabic is called “Eid Milad Majid” which means ‘Festival of Glorious Birth” and Passover is called “Eid al Fasah.” (Even birthdays are called Eid!)
Apart from differences in what the holidays are called, the holidays are also celebrated differently from culture to culture. It’s the same way, for example, an Italian Christmas celebration is different from an English one and an English Christmas is different than a Russian Christmas. When talking about how Muslim holidays are celebrated, avoid making generalizations about all Muslims and instead focus the conversation on how your family celebrates, emphasizing that each family/ culture is different, though there may be some overlapping traditions.
Mention your experiences as an American-Muslim
In America, Muslims are beginning to form their own traditions as a result of American culture. For example, many moms make Ramadan calendars which are spin-offs of Christmas’ advent calendars. Wrapped gifts are becoming more common than Eid money, once again as influence from Christmas. American sugar cookies and cupcakes are often more favoured over traditional sweets; and now we’re even starting to assign colours and symbols to the holidays just like all other American holidays (more on that here.)
Additionally, America is a melting pot and Muslims of different cultures have a chance to get to know one another and learn from each other. As a result, Muslims of different cultures have begun adopting from each other’s holiday foods, clothes and customs. Sometimes this is a result of inter-cultural marriages but other time’s we adopt each other’s traditions simply because we like them. In explaining how Muslim holidays are celebrated, you can mention the different traditions you have in your home as an American-Muslim and how the traditions you have might differ significantly from other cultures around the globe.
What are some tips that have proved helpful for you when talking to your child’s teacher about Eid? Share your experiences in the comments below.