When Mr. MM found out I was going to write a new post about Eid his response was, “Oh no, you’re not going to complain like you did about Ramadan are you?”
Unfortunately, yes. I feel like this blog is becoming a bit of a wet blanket, but I’m telling it as it happens. Its like news from the Middle East, you want to hear about kittens and fluffy white clouds but mostly its bombs, rocket grenades, and crimes against humanity.
This time my complaints have less to do with my personal perception of Eid and more actual physical harm.
In the west Eid prayer is a festive get together in whatever random convention hall/stadium the Muslim community was able to trick the city into renting us. I say trick because most of the locations after one Eid, and experience with the bad manners and worse habits of the community, put us on their “do not rent to” list. With the exception of, I believe, the Convention Center in downtown Minneapolis where, pretty much every Eid, you are guaranteed to be able to find an Eid prayer.
In the unlucky convention hall of the day the women’s section is filled with loud, clashing colors battling loud, clashing voices; little to no cohesion or organization; and a distinct inability to understand the sermon being given, or in fact to even partake in the takbeerat at the beginning. The only time the women, mostly, shut up is during the actual prayer, but this is instead plagued with seemed inability to form straight lines to save their lives, serious battles for territory, and so little space that most of the time you find yourself with your face in the feet of the woman ahead of you during sujood, and during ru’ku your face in a place you’d probably should have taken her out to dinner before accessing. Likewise for yourself and the woman behind you.
During the sermon there are orchestrated attempts to quiet down the women which do not work, a man always comes in to tell the women to shut up because they’re even so loud some of the men in the men’s section can’t hear and that goes completely unnoticed because lets face it, one man versus 250 talking women, when on a good day women on a one to one ratio can talk louder than a man, is equivalent to banging your head on a wall; and mostly I leave each year huffing and puffing and doubting the future of such a rude community.
I had never, at that point, been to a Middle Eastern Eid prayer.
I will preface this with the statement that we were in Mr. MM’s old neighborhood which is basically a poverty-stricken ghetto filled with what society Egyptians refer to as “locals.” I would say equivalent to a city filled to bursting with the Beverly Hillbillies. It is possible, even probable, that a higher class area would not have been so bad, but I have my doubts that it would be that much better either.
Eid prayer here takes place at an unearthly early time in the morning, in the west its usually around nine or ten am, the earliest is maybe at eight… this morning we assembled at the bright and bushy hour of six am. Mr. MM and I migrated with the other herds to one of the bigger congregation areas and I followed the women to their separate area. Had I known that we would be sitting out in the middle of the omg-seriously-not-clean streets I might have considered staying home, but not having been forewarned I found myself faced with the option of setting up shop on a field of broken glass. I’m really not exaggerating here, it looked like someone laid out a fifty foot by fifty foot pane of glass and proceeded to break it up into little pieces. Having none of that I pushed my way forward to stake out my own little space of relatively garbage and glass free pavement. I laid down the prayer rug I was thanking God I thought to bring, many women had only sheets of newspaper to pray on and some of them were so poor that they didn’t even have that, and I settled in for the battle to protect my precious space bubble.
I must say that most of the women did actually partake in the takbeerat song, but I don’t know if it was really that they were that much quieter here or if it was that fact that each mosque in the city (imagine two mosques per street and twenty streets within sight) were broadcasting it over (very)loudspeakers and had been since right after the fajr prayer (did I mention the morning started early?) But even up to the actual prayer women were still trekking through the unevenly spaced lines of praying people to find their own space in what was by that point a very crowded town square. One girl decided my delineated and hard-won area of one foot by two feet looked like a great place to stop and start to pray, but I changed her mind quickly. Even as it was I was more friendly with the woman in front of me, and with the woman behind me, than I ever was in the US.
After the prayer most of the women didn’t even stop to listen to the sermon, which is probably best anyways as it was not broadcast over the (very)loudspeakers of the mosques, but instead over some small portable speakers set up only in the men’s section. Before anyone cries sexism though, please read my above paragraph on how well the sermon goes down even when it IS piped into the women’s section. Many of the women started to try to stop the women who were packing up and leaving with cries of “Salaat ul-junazza!” (which is prayed for someone who has died that day or the day before) but lacking any sort of cohesion and organization the stampede began and even if I wished to, and the women yelling out wished to, the herds wouldn’t let us alone to wait for the junazza prayer.
Faced with either moving or being trampled, I chose life and so began probably the most dangerous part of Eid this year. There were probably three hundred women, if not more, and many of them were carrying/dragging any number of children along with them, and they were all trying to get through a bottle neck that only supported about fifteen women shoulder to shoulder. Unable to move forward I found myself caught in one of those unintentional mosh-pits except this one wasn’t fun and games. The three hundred women behind us attempted to shove themselves through the way, making the space more compact, ripping children from their mother’s hands and getting them lost in the crowd. I was worried any number of small children would be stepped on and killed and almost started to beat the women behind me when one little girl was knocked down and away from her mother but she was quickly picked up and replaced and the crowd moved on. Towards the front of the crush I found it hard to breathe I was being pressed so tightly but I made it out, in fact with a bit of a popping sound, and I hurried to the car where I met Mr. MM who had also wanted to stay for the junazza but was worried about me not knowing what to do if he wasn’t there. Fuming, attempting to catch my breath, I swore to never again go to Eid prayer in Egypt, not even in higher-class areas.
And I won’t.
The rest of the day passed relatively nicely, visiting with all of my in-laws, but I was too tired for most of it to really enjoy. Honestly I miss Eid with my walee and his family, hanging out, chatting with visitors, applying henna, laughing, and eating Pakistani food that I actually like.
When I think back on western Eid prayers, yeah the women are rude and ignorant but I have never once feared for my life or been faced with praying on a field of broken glass. Sure I can’t hear the sermon, and mostly can’t hear the takbeerat, but for all of its issues I prefer it to what I experienced today.
That and its fun to get dressed up in your new Eid clothes and wear it to the prayer, here all the women pretty much dress in abayas and I had absolutely no fun with that.
I knew, coming to Egypt, that I wasn’t going to find a Utopian world of Islam, but I didn’t realize I would miss my American Islam quite this much.
Oh, just because I don’t want all this post to be doom and gloom, the best part of this Eid was having nieces and nephews to cuddle and give presents to. I spent most of the Eid Eve with one or both of the twins on my lap and a lot of “bosee tante mollllllllyyyyyyyyyyyyy boseee!”
That rocked ladies and gentleman.
I hope your Eids were wonderful and spent in safety surrounded by loved ones. 🙂
kol sana we tayabeen.