Why this year’s Eid is a ‘very tough one emotionally’ for Canadian Muslims

TORONTO — Nur Watad and her Palestinian family normally love celebrating the end of Ramadan, but this year, it “doesn’t feel like Eid at all.”

“Usually before Eid, I’d be so excited — preparing what I’d wear, making Eid cookies with my mom. We’d be doing so much,” the London, Ont. woman told CTVNews.ca in a joint interview with her younger sister.

Eid al-Fitr is one of the holiest days of the year for Muslims, marking the end of a month of fasting, reflection and charity. People usually gather for huge dinners at their homes, mosques are filled to the brim, and gifts are exchanged in person.

But for the second year in a row, Muslims couldn’t do any of those things because of COVID-19 restrictions.

On top of that, many Muslims are heartbroken by the growing death toll from the escalating conflict in the Palestinian territories and Israel, which many say echoes the destruction and loss of life seen during the 50-day war in 2014.

Watad and her sister, Aden, were born and raised in Jerusalem before coming to Canada eight years ago and both still have family close to the Gaza-Israeli border.

“It has been really difficult to balance [Eid] celebrations because we aren’t able to celebrate when our Palestinian brothers and sisters are literally fearing for their lives,” said Aden.

This Eid, they will be joining the growing number of people wearing keffiyehs — scarves commonly worn by Palestinians — in order to show solidarity.

“We’re just commemorating what’s going on right now,” said Watad. “It’s very, very disappointing to see that this is actually happening in our country and we can’t do much about it over here in Canada.”

This Eid and during Ramadan, donations to various fundraising campaigns, including those for families in Gaza or Syria, were urged in the community, as well as among non-Muslims. Others are also advocating for action beyond that.

Sabrine Azraq, the founder of Buycott Palestine — which calls on people to support and collaborate with Palestinian businesses and organizations — said many Palestinians have a “very bittersweet feeling” each Ramadan and Eid, as in years pastviolence in the region has been common.

So, this year, in solidarity with the families facing forced evictions from their homes in the predominantly Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, Azraq and her supporters are posting mock eviction notices in public spaces and windows, and on people’s doors in the Greater Toronto Area, Niagara, the Halton Region and in other cities, such as Edmonton and New York City.

“The goal really is to evoke some sort of emotion… so that [the general public] can in some way attempt to at least try to put themselves in the shoes of these Palestinians,” Azraq told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview, adding that the notices direct people to online resources to learn more.

‘IT’S A STRUGGLE TO BE HONEST’

Others across the country said they’re still making an effort celebrate Eid on Thursday because it’s also important to have at least a brief time of solace, especially for young children.

“It’s going to be a very tough one emotionally,” Noor Al-Henedy, spokesperson for the Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton said, calling the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories “very close to our hearts.”

“Our faith always tells us to keep a strong belief that everything is under the will of God,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. “So on the ground, we’re going to try to make it work the best we can.”

Congregants at her mosque are handing out gift bags and balloons to children of families who arrive at the mosque in their cars. This follows a separate toy drive the mosque held earlier this week for families in need.

Many other mosques across the country are doing the same, such as the Islamic Society of North America in Canada in Mississauga, Ont., which will be handing out gift bags, popcorn and candies to families at their drive-thru event. And like last year, organizers are also urging people to decorate their cars for the occasion.

A big part of the month of Ramadan involves doing acts of charity, so throughout the month, Canadian Muslims have banded together to hand out meals to families and shelters in need. Al-Henedy and fellow congregants in the Edmonton mosque handed out 10,000 meals alone.

“We are just hopeful,” Al-Henedy said. “We keep everybody in our prayers — whether it’s our families here, whether they’re people who are struggling in the hospitals, people who’ve passed from COVID or people who are who are in this situation right now happening overseas.”

Normally, her Edmonton mosque would expect up to 16,000 people to show up for Eid prayers. But that wasn’t the case for the second year in a row, as Alberta restrictions only allow 15 people in places of worship.

“It’s a struggle, to be honest,” she said, hoping that vaccination rates will climb and COVID-19 cases will drop enough so “restrictions will be loosened and we can come together.”

Last Ramadan, Mosquee Madani in Montreal was closed so Imam Imran Shariff, who led in-person morning Eid prayers, said this Eid is “brighter than last year.”

He was grateful at least some of his congregants were able to come together indoors. “We’re almost to the end of the COVID and hopefully we won’t have to look back at the last two years anymore.”

VIRTUAL IFTARS

There will be countless online gatherings and virtual iftars — dinners to break a day-long fast — as Muslim families stay indoors and connect with loved ones over Zoom or Skype.

The Canadian Muslim COVID-19 Task Force even published guidelines on how to celebrate Eid safely, noting that offering Eid prayers from home is perfectly acceptable.

The Muslim Association of Canada (MAC) is encouraging people to attend their “coast-to-coast” virtual Eid celebration in “an effort to unite the community and bring joy to families,” organizers told CTVNews.ca.

“We are focused on bringing the community together in the safest way possible,” the group’s executive director Sharaf Sharafeldin told CTVNews.ca.

For close to half a century, MAC has helped organize vibrant, in-person Eid festivals across Canada, so he said virtual celebrations are a way to carry on that tradition.

Mustafa Farooq, chief executive officer of Ottawa-based advocacy group National Council of Canadian Muslims, said this Eid many people will want to stand up and show “our hearts are with each other.”

He urged Canadian Muslims reflect on their “spirit of charity” during Ramadan but also throughout the year as they organized food drives, personal protective equipment collections, and other fundraisers for people.

“I know that for many members of the community, it’s going to be a continued move forward and try to make things better while also recognizing that these are tough times.”

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