Celebrating Eid Amidst the Coronavirus

How Stuyvesant students celebrated Eid in the face of the restrictions brought on by the quarantine and the coronavirus.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Semoi Khan

The new moon at the end of the month of Ramadan is a joyous sight for Muslims across the world; it means that Eid al-Fitr has begun. Eid al-Fitr is a special holiday for the Islamic community that marks the time for Muslims to join together and celebrate the culmination of their efforts during the fasting month of Ramadan. Typically, the day is characterized by congregational prayers, large family gatherings, and various communal festivities. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic this year, many of these celebratory activities have been canceled. Despite the isolation that quarantine brings, Stuyvesant students found ways to maintain the spirit of Eid amidst the coronavirus blues.

Preparing for Eid has always been an important component of the holiday’s allure. The detailed planning builds the anticipation for the day and is always something looked forward to. For sophomore Nafisa Ishra, her typical preparations for the holiday include dressing up in traditional attire, creating henna designs, and concocting various Eid recipes with her family. In regards to this year’s Eid, however, Ishra described, “There was no enthusiasm or looking forward to it [Eid] because everyone knew it wouldn’t really be the same.”

In addition to the preparations, students at Stuyvesant partake in various unique traditions during Eid. For some, these customs reflect their family history and upbringing, while others have adopted new traditions and hope to sustain them over future generations. One tradition that Ishra was unable to continue this year was the henna stand in which she and her friends would use henna dye to tattoo floral patterns on the hands of excited children. The stand was important to Ishra not only because she was able to spend time with her friends but also because of the anticipation and optimism it brought for the upcoming festivities. “The simple act of doing the henna is much more when friends and family come and prepare for the festive holiday together. I missed my friends and even the strangers who would gather to get their henna done at the stand. Without it, my Eid felt completely different,” she said.

Despite evident obstacles, others like junior Raisa Amin looked at the situation hopefully. Amin explained that she kept a positive attitude as she continued her usual preparations for the holiday. “Regardless of whether we were home or outside, I [still] tried to keep my spirits high; I still dressed up and did my henna like normal years, and I like to try to make desserts too, which I did,” Amin said.

Similar to Ishra, junior Bushra Islam also reminisced on the aspects of Eid she missed, especially the frenzied cleaning and intricate arrangement of desserts at the table. Though her Eid experience has been greatly altered by the pandemic, she expressed that she still felt grateful for the time she was able to spend with her family, catching up with old friends, and practicing her faith. “Perhaps this Ramadan and Eid served as a reminder of all we take for granted, and still do, and [to] take comfort in the simple things,” she remarked.

The Arabic translation of Eid is “blessed feast,” and although the significance of this is universal, the holiday is distinctly symbolic for each and every family. Sophomore Aleena Sage expressed the importance of family bonding and being able to strengthen community ties during the holiday: “We have a community at the masjid [mosque], and we look forward to seeing them in the morning. Since we weren’t able to go this year, I felt that a part of our bonding time had been taken away.” Though she was not able to reunite with people at the mosque, she was able to meet with close family members.

Eid al-Fitr is often referred to as the Sugar Feast because a large portion of the day’s meals includes sugar-filled sweets and traditional desserts. Amin, who enjoys baking desserts, expressed her sadness that she wasn’t able to share her creations with others. “If I tried making something new, I would want others to try it, and sharing food is always so exciting, especially on Eid,” Amin said. Still, she hopes to share her desserts as soon as quarantine is over, adding that the seclusion gave her time to perfect her recipes.

Sharing savory dishes and exquisite meals among large groups also serves as an essential component of the cuisine and activities that make Eid so special. Islam’s family hosts a grand party and barbeque in the backyard every year in hopes of gathering and connecting with distant family. Safety concerns and travel restrictions canceled these plans, which are usually set months before Eid. Despite the lost exchange of wishes and prayers between friends and family, Islam voiced, “My mom, dad, sisters, and I found it necessary to cook a feast and set the ambiance for a celebration.” The absence of loved ones was filled with a familial preparation of haleem, a staple in her family, samosas, shemai, flan, tehari, and other sweets.

Although interactions with family and friends seemed nearly impossible, many were able to amend the situation and keep in contact with not only those who were closer but also faraway loved ones. Amin mentioned she was able to visit her cousins who lived a few blocks away. This allowed her to enjoy the joint nature of Eid, even if it was reduced. As for out-of-reach family members, “There were phone calls wishing everyone Eid Mubarak and discussing our [respective] plans for the day,” she described.

Islam’s sister arranged a Zoom video call with her extended family in London and other parts of the U.S. As a result of this, she recalls, “My day ended up being full of laughs, nostalgia, and embarrassing moments.” Her attempts to embrace loving interactions were furthered by a stop at her best friend’s house, where she dropped off food and spent a few moments catching up.

Though this Eid may have been unlike anything that the Muslim community has ever experienced, that didn’t stop Stuyvesant students from celebrating Eid for what it is really about: family and faith. Perhaps it’s an Eid like this that makes us really appreciate the simple joys of being able to visit friends and relatives and communally praying at the mosque. Perhaps it’s an Eid like this that allows us to understand what Eid, at its crux, means for us. And most importantly, perhaps it’s an Eid like this that makes us stronger.