Eid Mubarak! Check out my latest essay in The New York Times (spelling of Id is NYT style, so it wasn’t my call).
**UPDATE** This essay was on the homepage of both nytimes.com and the global edition International Herald Tribune today.
When I think of Id, I think of doughnuts.
Some might expect more ethnic fare to be symbolic of this holy day—haleem, perhaps, or baklava. But growing up frequenting a mosque in suburban New England, my Id mornings involved leaping up as soon as prayers were over, dispensing the customary three hugs to everyone in my vicinity and racing with my friends to the social hall, where a smorgasbord of powdered and jelly-filled confections awaited. To this day, nothing says “Id Mubarak” to me quite like a chocolate-glazed doughnut.
In countries with significant Muslim populations, Id-al-Adha—Bakr-Id, or Festival of the Goat, as it’s known throughout South Asia—is synonymous with qurbaani, or the sacrifice of animals. But you’d be hard-pressed to find Muslim families in the United States ferrying sheep home in the backs of their SUVs, securing them to their white picket fences and slaughtering them on their driveways. In the motherland, the ritual is as standard a practice as baking Christmas cookies is here, but most Muslims I know in America have never witnessed the practice themselves.
Instead, my family, like countless others, has outsourced our qurbaani to—where else?—India, where the meat is then widely distributed to the needy on our behalf. And then we eat doughnuts.
Id-ul-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan, is enthusiastically anticipated by hungry Muslims counting down the days to the finish line that marks the culmination of the month of fasting. But it’s harder for those of us not participating in the hajj pilgrimage to muster the same level of enthusiasm for this Id—ironic, considering it’s perhaps the greater of the two, and most symbolic of the very core of the faith. The word Islam means submission, and today we celebrate Abraham’s submission to the will of God when he was asked to sacrifice his son. When he agreed without hesitation, a lamb was sent in his son’s place; today, Muslims honor that devotion by sacrificing lambs, goats or cows.
That’s not to say I’ve never had a close encounter of the sheep kind. I’ve witnessed the full-fledged Bakr-Id experience numerous times at my grandparents’ home in Hyderabad: servants gathering lambs in a shack behind the house; my grandfather reciting a prayer and solemnly slaughtering the first animal as I peer through a window; and, soon enough, fresh shami kababs being served for lunch. At least I always knew exactly what was going on; some of my less fortunate acquaintances naively made friends with their family’s Id goat—the name Billy was an obvious go-to—only to be dismayed to realize that their new pet was the main ingredient in the holiday biryani. They were left so scarred that it’s a wonder I don’t have more vegetarian friends.
An American Id has its own homegrown traditions, albeit more sterilized ones. We stay up late the night before for chaand raat festivities, midnight bazaars and cookie-baking parties. The hearts of desi-centric neighborhoods like Jackson Heights in New York and Devon Street in Chicago resemble Delhi or Karachi, with cars honking, revelers overflowing in the streets and music blaring from every storefront. We visit family and friends all day, going from house to house feasting on kababs and sheer khorma, a sweet milk concoction with vermicelli, saffron, and nuts. Meat plays a major role in the form of lamb biryani, mutton chops and goat nihari galore, though unlike in Hyderabad I can’t trace its provenance to my backyard. At night some might play Pin the Tail on the Goat; in years past I’ve participated in Secret Idi exchanges. When I have kids, there just may be an Id Elf responsible for mounds of presents magically manifesting themselves. He’ll likely navigate by way of a flying camel.
But when you’re living in New York, far away from your parents and hometown mosques, the local community takes on a whole new level of importance. In a city like this, friends become family; and with the restrictions imposed by most Manhattan shoebox apartments, gatherings at homes are replaced by massive brunches at Sarabeth’s after prayers. When I’m really lucky, I score an invite to one of my adopted families’ homes in Brooklyn or New Jersey to fill up on kheema rolls and kebabs.
On Sunday morning I donned a new shalwar kameez and took a cab to the Islamic Center of New York University. Imam Khalid Latif, 29, something of a rock star in the Muslim American world (he also happens to be married to one of my best friends, Priya), led the service and delivered the Id sermon. His words resonated as I sat there, part of one diverse, transient yet unified community: “When you celebrate today, celebrate with each other. Don’t just extend your greetings to the people you know. Don’t leave each other alone.”
And we didn’t. Nearly a thousand New Yorkers—students and young professionals; families and children; people of all races; dressed in jeans, suits, hijabs, thobes and kurtas—gathered in that crowded space, in the basement of a church, to celebrate Id together in a quintessentially all-American way.
Then we ate. The spread was elaborate—bagels, fruit, muffins, pastries, chicken tikka, M&M’s, baklava and more—but, to my dismay, something was missing.
And so on my walk home, I made a pit stop at Dunkin’ Donuts
Id Mubarak, indeed.
Sarah Khan was born in Canada and grew up in Toronto, Saudi Arabia, Hyderabad, and Massachusetts. She is an editor at Travel + Leisure magazine in New York. You can read more of her work at www.bysarahkhan.com or follow her on Twitter @BySarahKhan.