Religious holidays are interesting to me. As an American who grew up in a non-religious household, the traditional Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter were little more than days where my family got together and ate dinner and exchanged gifts; in other words, there really was no religious connotation attached to the day. Indeed, for most Americans, formerly religious holidays have been ‘capitalized,’ that is, the focus is entirely on the superficial and material, not on the original reason for celebration.
Therefore, when I went to Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens, with Damby I was interested to see how the famously Egyptian street would look for Eid Al-Fitr. With a traditional black-and-white checkered scarf tied around my head rebel-style, we ate at an open-air burger place run by some Egyptians, then smoked hookah at a cafe, and did what Arabs, just like the French, have perfected: lounging and people watching.
Of course, not all of Steinway Street is Arab; rather, the common bond is Islam, for there were a lot of Bangladeshis out celebrating. And unlike the Egyptians and other Arab nationals, the Bangladeshis actually looked like they were celebrating. The girls were decked out in sparkly high heels, with sparkly, embellished long tunics with chiffon and silky material and those traditional loose but chic trousers walked around with expensive bags and their beautiful black hair styled. The children were decked out too in holiday saris or tunics, and even the guys dressed up: one guy memorably wore a reddish tunic with gold embellishments, white skinny jeans and red slippers on his feet that I’m betting you can only buy in Bangladesh.
Of course, this wasn’t to say that the Arab population was ill-dressed; they were just more subdued, as damby agreed. We sat at the cafe and ordered an apple shisha; Damby got thick Egyptian coffee and I just bottled water, and we watched people. The waiters at the shisha place joked with Damby, and one even directly spoke to me. A man-an Egyptian, I think-came with an Asian lady with afro-like hair and sat down next to us and chatted with Damby. Although the street was kind of quiet, there were still people, even old women in loose robes and babies, out and about. Eid lamps hung in the windows glowing. A large group composed mostly of Bangladeshi women sat down in a circle at the cafe.
Although I wasn’t witnessing some elaborate Eid feast (we had sandwiches at Chubby Burgers) and I wasn’t dressed in head-to-toe Eid finery, one could still feel the warmth of the holiday, and particularly, Steinway Street. It was only my second time on this famed street, and I still can’t marvel how similar it is to being in Cairo: the buildings, just like in Cairo, were translated in English and Arabic; there were shisha cafes, halal meat stores and a large, albeit minaret-less, mosque. What was most important that the feeling of friendliness, just like in Cairo, was there.
The differences, of course, were that there were South Asians and Americans and Latinos present, too. And that if a girl, even a Muslim, wanted to wear a short skirt, she could, and not get hounded for it. I hope Egypt, Libya, Syria and other Arab countries can achieve this sort of ease and acceptance that I saw on Steinway Street. I hope all of America, and all the world, can acheive the sort of co-existence where a McSally’s Irish-American-style pub can stand side by side with a grocer selling traditional Arabic food in harmony. But I realize that this sort of Eid prayer seems impossible, when Syria’s citizens spent Eid solemn and hunkered down from the shells the Syrian army fired on them, and a search of ‘Muslim’s celebrating Eid in America’ brought up only photos from other countries-other far, far away countries. Why can’t Syria’s government adhere to human rights? Why are Americans so afraid to admit that Musims live in America?
No matter what religion you believe in, we’re all in this together, people.
Happy (belated) Eid to all Muslims of the world!