As Uncle Cecil – as we now fondly call him – pulled up the Van at Clarion Hotel on 3032 Richmond Road, seated strategically at the shopping and dining district of Jamestown and Yorktown, Williamsburg, I peeked through the vehicle’s window determined to catch a glimpse of the open praying area before alighting.
I guess I was eager to satisfy an inner yearnings associated with my lifelong experience of seeing droves of diverse faithfuls converging in an open ground, colourfully dressed in their latest and best regalia, exhanching Eid Salutes and taking in the joy, excitement, gratitude, nostalgia and serenity associated with the Eid prayer and festivities that usually follows.
But that was not to be as all i saw was faithfuls alighting from their vehicles with their praying mats and commuting towards the hotels main entrance.
“Are we going to observe the prayer inside the Hotel?” I asked astonished.
Although the fact that i didn’t see a bustling space resulting to a cacophony of voices with sounds ranging from hushed whispers and animated conversations to excited exclamations and intermittent bursts of boisterous laughter, each one distinct in tone and intensity, didn’t surprise me much. This is America, where the value of individuality holds significant importance in culture and society.
Americans often embrace and celebrate individualism as a core aspect of their identity and the principles upon which the nation was founded based on key aspects of personal freedom, self-reliance and independence, personal privacy and autonomy and individual uniqueness and diversity to mention a few.
However, this is the fist time in my entire natural life i would be praying Eid in an enclosed space talk less of a Hotel
As we strolled into the Hotel, I heard a confident voice calling out from behind me, “Amma Wannan Kanawan Nijeriya ne ko,” it proclaimed, almost certain of our origins in Kano, Nigeria.
Intrigued by the familiarity, I turned around, filled with anticipation, a gentleman, unmistakably a Ghanaian, proudly showcasing his heritage donned in a striking “fugu” – black and white striped shirt, short hands with a flaying down part as i would later learn from David Nii Doodo Larbi a Ghanaian fellow at the Precinct who explained to me that it’s a renowned traditional outfit from Northern Ghana.
With a warm smile, the gentleman approached and we exchanged curt greetings, heading into the hotel and making straight for the hall where prayers was to be observed. Myself and Abiola from Nigeria and Papa from Senegal were colourfully dressed in the traditional “Agbada” a regal and majestic traditional attire that comes in the form of a flowing robe, exuding elegance and grandeur and holding significant cultural and historical significance that represents heritage, prestige, and status. So, for the Ghanaian to think of us all as having shared origin from Kano Nigeria is understandable and excusable and though i had not met a fellow Nigerian, i was grateful for the encounter.
As we greeted other faithfuls i scanned the conference hall where we would be saying our prayer. I have only remembered being in such halls during meetings, workshops, trainings and conferences but not to observe Eid which is supposed to be conducted in a “Musalla (prayer-pace).”
During the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), the Eid prayer was held in a Musalla outside the built-up area, because it is a special congregational prayer that attracts a large gathering of Muslims, including men, women, and children, it fosters a sense of unity and community spirit, and allows Muslims to be closer to nature. Therefore, Eid is often organized at an open, well known space, preferably outside the village or town, so that the community can gather and perform this distinctive act of worship
Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 956; Muslim, 889, Al-‘Ayni said: This shows that we should go out to the prayer-place and not offer the Eid prayer in the mosque except in case of necessity. Ibn Ziyaad narrated that Maalik said: The Sunnah is to go out to the prayer-place except for the people of Makkah, who should pray in the mosque.
In al-Fataawa al-Hindiyyah (vol. 1, p. 118) it says: Going out to the prayer-place for Eid prayer is Sunnah, even if the Jaami’ Mosque is large enough to accommodate them. This is the view of the majority of shaykhs and it is the correct view.
It’s important to note that while open grounds are preferred, the Eid prayer can also be performed in mosques, community centers, or any suitable indoor venue if circumstances do not permit an outdoor gathering, such as inclement weather or lack of available space. The essential aspect is the congregation of Muslims coming together to observe this special prayer and celebrate the festive occasion.
In Williamsburg, the mosque’s size may not accommodate the approximately 100 believers who gathered to pray Eid, prompting them to hold the prayers in a hotel as a result of lack of available open space, further highlighting the fact that Eid is not a nationally recognized public holiday in the United States. Public holidays in the U.S. are typically determined at the federal level, and Eid is not among the official federal holidays. However, many Muslim employees and students in the United States take time off from work or school to celebrate Eid.
Even uncle Cecil who drove us to the prayer ground wasn’t sure what Eid was until we explained to him that it was the later of two “Muslim Holiday” celebrated within Islam and the ter literally means “feast” or “festival” where faithfuls gather annually to pray and this particular one he is drivin us to usually falls on the tenth day in the final (twelfth) month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar; Dhu-al-Hijjah.
Notwithsatsanding, that Karen Walker our Program Executive and other Precinct staff were untop of the information and coordinationaspects of our prayer times and place – even when there were updates – shows the depth of their respect for diversity and inclusion. Karen herself had initially offered to drive us to the Eid ground, wait for us to finish praying before driving us back but due to eventual considerations, later scheduled a van with with Marrow Transportation (Cecil) to pick us up at 7:40 am and return by 9:15 to take us all back to One Tribe Place – our Willian & Mary Dorm – when we must have been done with prayers. The show of willingness to help facilitate our religious practices and the display of the understanding of the importance of our worship was greatly impressive to me.
I was quick to relate the choice of Venue for the prayers to one of our design thinking class just a day to Eid at the College of William & Mary where we were tasked to look at the concept of a wallet – which is already a solution is existence – and design a new idea following design thinking protocols and arriving at various perspectives and designs. This alone makes us understand that nothing is cast in stone.
We sat on the mat already laid in the hotel hall, chanting the Eid takbir, “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Laa ilaaha illallahu Wallahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Wa lillahil Hamd. (Translation: “Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest. There is no deity besides Allah and Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest and all praises are for Allah only).
The first thing that struck me with the “American Muslims” is the casual manner of dressing to the Eid prayer. Nigeria the Eid occasion is somewhat an occasion for the display of communal pomp and pageantry, with competitors striffing to outdo their pairs in the best regalia and gear but at this prayer ground, those of us Nigerians and Senagalese in “Agabda” were obviously the most fashionably dressed in native sense.
The women mostly adorned their abaya which seems to have been a universally regarded comfortable dressing for their gender while the men mostly dressed in business casuals – shirt and trouser, some talked in, while others just wore plain long robes – “Jallabia.”
As I absorbed the moment, completely immersed in my Takbir while patiently awaiting the arrival of the Imam, a call for donations resonated. The plea echoed, “Donations for the sake of Allah, please give generously… donate for the cause of Allah. Every contribution matters to Allah.” It was a young boy, about fourteen, holding onto the donation box as he made his way around. In his earnestness, he repeated what could be considered our Nigerian rendition of “Give, even if it’s just 1 kobo, no amount is too small…”
I wasn’t intentional about coming out with cash so the moment caught me with just about six quarter dollar coins in my pocket, i contemplated donating it but i wasn’t sure in my mind if that falls within the practicable context of “no amount is too small,” in America, so in order not to disgrace myself, i let it be.
At about ten past nine am, the imam joined us, unaccompanied by retinue aids as is is customary in our own part of the world to see the imam escorted or followed by a group of individuals as a sign of respect or to assist in logistical arrangements during the Eid gathering.
He briefly explained how salatul Eid is expected to be performed – the number of takbirs and raka’ats – and informed the congregation that the Khutbah (sermon) will be done after the prayers.
Even the sermon after the salat was not time wasting he simply spoke abou the purpose of the creation of mankind, the significance of the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim. He decried the size of the Williamsburg Jumma’at Mosque which he says is growing smaller and smaller due to increasing Muslim population from migrants, to new neighbors packing in and reverts. While encouraging faithfuls to support the cause of a new Mosque Project in Williamsburg, the iman also underscored the need to have an Islamic school in the Mosque like other communities in America.
He concluded by admonishing Muslims to be good and to “spread peace around them…feed the poor, pray at night and you will enter paradise.”
After the prayers, we all exchanged greetings which was most accompanied by introductions especially names and nationality and it is not uncommon in an even mix of Americans, Asians, Africans and Europeans especially from Turkey. We met and greeted the Iman who was happy by our presence and ready shared the history of his Morocan descent.
I also met another Ghanaian who coincidently was an elder brother of the gentleman we encountered earlier. When i jokingly asked about the ram feast which was supposed to follow after the Eid prayer, painstakingly explained that in the United States, animals are only slaughtered for consumption in facilities called slaughterhouses.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are the regulatory bodies responsible for overseeing the slaughter and processing of animals for human consumption in the country.
They enforce strict guidelines and standards to ensure the safety and quality of the meat produced, however because they are not “halal slaughters,” which follows specific guidelines and principles outlined in Islamic dietary laws, most Muslims either go to the slaughterhouses themselves to slaughter the animal, prepare and bring it home if they are off duty from work or not slaughter at all if they are supposed to report to work. Most Muslim immigrants he says typically sends the money home for family and friends to perform the sacrifice of their behalf.
Aftewr Eid, we all converged at the Berkeley Room adjacent the the hall were we prayed and we had a variety of Asian cousines to feast on – ofcourse without ram meat!
“Eid in Williamsburg, US was a bit odd for me. Aside the obvious fact that it’s totally different from the way we celebrate it in Nigeria, it was my first time in a long while I won’t be celebrating it with my extended family and friends. Unlike the fun fare and pre-Eid tensions of which ram to buy in the build up to Eids in Nigeria, we didn’t even feel anything similar around. So plan were to just pray and leave the Eid ground to get back to what I was brought here to do but the foods made available after prayers meant I will have to wait and feast with brothers and sisters. While I deeply appreciate the selfishness and kindness shown to me and my friends that prayed with the Williamsburg Muslim community, a part of me was like, “Na so I go do Eid without chopping meat,” Abiola Durodola, team lead of AdvoKC, a youth-led civic-tech organization in Nigeria said.
For Abdulnasir Adem, an Ethiopian Human Rights and Education activist, it was a fascinating and deeply spiritual experience. “One thing that stand out to me is the wisdom and strength of our religion after coming this far from Ethiopia, that the prayer and all the ceremony was the same. The gathering up after the prayer and sharing of food together was unique and which creates community of Muslims in the west,” he said.
Houssein Osman Aden a program development professional from Djibouti shares the same optimism as Abdulnasir. “My Eid in United States was beyond my expectations. I have met new friends from different countries like Indonesia, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Morocco and Türkiye. It was amazing and delightful for me even if I didn’t meet anyone from Somali community. I felt like home because after performing the Eid prayer, we discussed around a meal which was delicious.”
At the end, Eid in a Hotel created for us an enchanting blend of positive emotions that uplifted our spirits, fostered connection, and gave us a sense of joy and harmony even though it feels nothing like home.
In the end, we were unanimous in agreeing that what we had was nothing shut of a “Vegetarian Eid,” not just because it there was no ram meat or because it all started in the hotel and ended there, but also because there was no form of meat available to at least exercise the claws of our teeths.
Mohammed is a 2023 Mandela Washington Fellow at the Presidential Precinct, Charlottesville VA, he writes via email@example.com