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Culture

‘Big Joy and Small Joy Are the Same’

As Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Fitr, coinciding with the end of Ramadan, it can bring a renewed sense of gratitude. Even after hardship.

The last 10 nights of Ramadan brim with an inimitable sort of anticipation. Waiting for the sun to set, waiting for the food to finish cooking, for the tea to cool. Whether the moon is spotted, revealing whether Eid is the next day or if there is another day of fasting, the pent-up joy for Eid al-Fitr comes without fail.

In the Junes and Julys of my girlhood, on the final night of Ramadan, I’d set out my shiny new Eid outfit just to sleep beside it. Vicariously, I was already at the mosque, listening to the click-clack of everyone’s dress shoes, admiring customary abayas and geles, taking photos with friends and family after the congregational prayer. On Eid morning, I listened to the cacophony of my folks complimenting one anothers’ outfits. We invited friends over for breakfast and brunch, friends invited us over for dinner and parties. We baked cookies and cakes, made candy bags and gave gifts. When sunset came, our bellies were already full. The only thing left to do was swat away mosquitos in our satisfied state. These were the joys of the Eids I had known. But when COVID-19 hit the U.S. last year, it brought a thick haze over those memories.

That Eid, the mosque didn’t have the jubilant bustle of people exchanging ‘salam’ or ‘Eid Mubarak.’ No friends to take selfies with, no candy bags for the kids, no outfits to ogle over and compliment. A sparse number of people participated in the Eid prayer in the mosque’s parking lot. Our place for communion, faith and community-building was still a near moonscape.

The day before Eid al-Fitr of last year, I took a head-clearing walk through the neighborhood. I donned my mask and dodged runners on the other side of the sidewalk, smiling wearily with my eyes. I reminisced about the Eids we had enjoyed so untroubled. I tried to remember the warmth of my grandmother’s hug, the ecstasy of community, how it felt sitting with friends and laughing late into the night. I wanted so badly for it to fall back into place — on my time.

Now as I prepare for this Eid an entire year later, the time I’ve spent largely in solitude has relinquished me of my burning desire for control. I am reminded of why Eid al-Fitr is celebrated to begin with. After a month in which our physical bodies are deprived of the comforts of food and water, when we are forced to reckon with our worldly desires and when our spirits practice restraint, patience and discipline, Eid represents only part of the reward for our diligence. Feasting may be what stands out about the holiday, but more importantly, it is a paradigm of Allah’s promise to bring ease after hardship (Quran 94:5-6). And of the good we are capable of fostering in our lives during the rest of the year.

The pandemic has elucidated that even further. We’re not simply waiting for the ease to come. We are creating it. We’re showing up, at home and at protests, online and 6 feet apart. We’re checking on neighbors, grieving family together, showing up despite our circumstances. We are coming out of lockdowns and quarantines, illness and health, pouring into others and ourselves. We are finding new ways to celebrate, reviving our faith and pushing for better.

This year, I won’t be shopping for a new outfit. My family and I will wear the best of our wardrobes to our porch, where we’ll pray the Eid prayer, as we did the last. We’ll video chat with loved ones in faraway places. In lieu of eating out, we’ll potluck one another's favorite dishes. Cookies will still be baked. We will enjoy them with friends who drop by and send socially-distant love through the porch screen.

With renewed gratitude for community and health, and for Eid itself, changes to the way I celebrate are welcomed.

There is nothing that feels rewarding about lost time. There is no magic about burning out; nothing ethereal about unprecedented, life-changing isolation and grief. But with the hope of the vaccines and in discovering new ways to celebrate life, my spirits remain high.

In future times, perhaps when the pandemic is a healing wound, I’ll remember that we found ways of reveling in the simple amid the unbearably complicated. In this “new normal,” I remind myself that it was never about the places I miss going to or the things that I did.

Big joy and small joy are the same. The important things about Eid have been here all along, reminding me of the joy that is possible amid and beyond the pandemic. As Allah advises, “So when you have finished [your duties], then stand up [for worship].” (Quran 94:7)

And so it will be.

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