Oct. 1, 2008—For the past month, I have been dragging myself out of bed at 4 a.m. for a pre-dawn meal, usually yogurt and granola, to prepare for an all-day fast. At each sunset, I have been breaking my fast in the lively, and lovely, company of my fellow Muslim sisters and brothers fasting for Ramadan.
Before things go back to a better kind of normal in a few days, I've got some serious celebrating to do! Today, I will join about 1 billion Muslims around the world commemorating the end of a month of fasting with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr.
The black Muslim celebrations I am describing don't look much like the Hollywood version of our faith. We are part of the African diaspora, with roots in the Caribbean, Latin America and the American South. We are African-American Muslims who found within Islam spiritual enlightenment and more: the legacy of our ancestors, enslaved Africans, many of whom were Muslims. Some of us are converts and others, like me, are raised in Muslim families.
Yet all of us are living proof that black folks come—have always come—in more than just two types: Christian and "Easter and Christmas Christian."
Eid al-Fitr (the festival of breaking the fast) is one of two eids, or celebrations, that Muslims around the world enjoy each year. Eid al-Fitr is the first day of Shawwal, the 10th month of the Islamic calendar, which commences at the end of the preceding month, Ramadan.
Ramadan is the month in which Muslims fast from the break of dawn until sunset. Despite Ramadan's requirements—abstinence from food, drink and sex during the daylight hours—its arrival is a joyful occasion because the physical fasting is accompanied by spiritual reflection and renewal for the individual and the reaffirmation of social ties for the community.
Many adherents use Ramadan to take a break from other things as well, from cigarettes to television. By deciding not to watch yet another YouTube rendition of a pop song, the Muslim is making room, physically and spiritually, for the evaluation of her internal spiritual state as well as her impact on the world in which she lives.
The arrival of Eid al-Fitr is about putting that evaluation into action: How can I be more compassionate and giving than I was last Ramadan? How can I show gratitude for all the things God has given me and kept from me? What am I going to doing to change the wrong things I see happening around me?
During Ramadan, we spend evenings together, at the masjid (mosque) and each other's homes. We pray together, laugh together and fill up our plates with curry chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, bust-up shot, arroz con gandules, and more, while little brown-skinned children play to the jangle of silver bracelets, as the rustle of brightly colored head scarves and dashikis move in prayer.
The Eid al-Fitr celebration that follows is also a community affair.
After a series of round-robin calls to different masjids to confirm the end of Ramadan, a bevy of preparations begins: settling on the perfect head scarf to match a new outfit; the final shoe shine; another car wash; and paying your tithes, which we call Zakat al-Fitr (an Eid charity)—all while getting to the Eid Salat, a simple prayer and sermon, the next morning on time.
And I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the cooking—lots of cooking! Indeed, one of the highlights of Eid, especially after a month of fasting, is food: sumptuous West Indian curries, rich Southern cuisine, and bacalao fried just right. And, true to our diasporic heritage, on the days of Eid we step out: in styles from West Africa to West Philly; in fuchsia, tangerine and indigo; and in some communities, in spite of the raised eyebrow, some even step in the name of love.
Of course, all the cooking, eating and festivity comes with its challenges. Some are small—How in the world am I going to keep this barbecue from spilling on my fresh linen? Others are of greater consequence—how to celebrate in a way that honors the lessons of charity and self-restraint Ramadan teaches, andat the same time honors the ancestors who weren't allowed Eid celebrations.
In a few days, I will be back to my usual routine, my consciousness expanded and ready to find news ways to serve. So when you see a Muslim, whether it's your cousin Raheem, or your co-worker Jamilah, who might look a little winded from all the festivities, be sure to say, "Eid Mubarak" (Eeeed Moo-baa-rack), which means Blessed Eid. They will appreciate it, because Eid al-Fitr is a black thang, too.