Do you live in a country where the schools – whether public, charter, or private –celebrate religious holidays in a special way? Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the like, get special recognition: decorations are put up, and there are often celebrations for kids to partake in. Living in the U.S., I have seen schools bring in Santa Claus, and assign students to make “traditional” holiday art reflecting these holidays. But what about Eid? Eid is rarely mentioned, or added to the curriculum during this season.
Muslim children grow up in these environments accepting that Islamic traditions will go unnoticed every holiday season. I do not fear that Muslim children will be sad about this, however, I fear our children will grow up to accept being invisible, not having a voice, living in the shadows. I fear that our children will hold a belief that Muslims have nothing to share with their classmates – with the world.
Project: Eid Awareness is a base to build a sense of belonging and identity for Muslim students in public schools, enabling them to feel that they, too, are recognized by their schools and their broader communities. The exclusion of Muslim holidays in most public schools has left Muslim students with a feeling of being overlooked.
This project is an effort to introduce schools to the two Islamic holidays by simply asking principals to add banners in the school as they would any other holiday décor. I also encourage offering a small summary about Eid for teachers to use as they educate the students on different holidays. This is an ideal opportunity for Muslim students to feel like their traditions are respected by their schools in the same way other traditions are. It is also a significant opportunity to allow diversity to flourish in the schools by introducing non-Muslim students to two different religious holidays celebrated widely even in non-Muslim countries.
The Inspiration Behind Project: Eid Awareness
This project was inspired mid-December 2011 by a real-life situation at my daughter’s school. I had gotten to know the principal at a Parent-Teacher meeting in September of the previous year. So one day, around the first week of December, we crossed paths in the courtyard and she asked how I was doing. I jokingly said, “Not so well!” She smiled and asked why. I expressed my disappointment in not seeing any décor for Eid, while I saw decor for Christmas and Hanukkah. She simply said, “Bring me something!”. She then said, “Educate us. You need to share information because some things we simply don’t know!”.
We as Muslims are trusted with a very important message, and here is a non-Muslim neighbor advising us to share it. Finding no Eid Decor, I designed my own using a website one can use to design stuff for marketing purposes (stuff like banners, pens, flyers, mugs, etc.)
So, I shared my story on Facebook, and a local masjid immediately offered to fund materials to distribute to schools. In about two weeks, we ended up getting educational materials to nine schools in the Philadelphia County and one school in Bucks County. The message even spread internationally as a sister in the U.K. wanted to contact me to discuss this idea. Through the web, I have made many connections – and so can you – to spread awareness and help others in this cause.
What’s so important about décor?
It is hard being a Muslim child in a non-Muslim country. Muslim children live differently, hold different values. An 18-year-old girl shared the following story with me as we were driving one day to introduce this project to a local masjid:
“I remember in elementary school how they used to put up decorations for Christmas and stuff, and I used to think it was on purpose, that they hated us. Then, when I went to high school, I kind of just forgot about it.”
Do you see? She ‘forgot’ about it. She felt something, was hurt in the beginning. Then she just let it go. She accepted this reality that Muslims are to be left “unknown,” “invisible,” “ignored.” Something that seems harmless can have lasting effects on our children.
Action Steps: How You Can Help Spread Awareness
1. Simply ask the school’s principal if they decorate/do anything special for any holidays: if the answer is yes, offer to donate some décor for Muslim holidays. (You can find suggestions/resources at the end of this article.)
2. Get people together and build a team. Each year, volunteers can call schools in your area and offer help with Eid holiday awareness if there is platform for it. This should be done early – perhaps prior to, or very early in the school year so that it is not a last-minute argument during “holiday season”.
3. If you need funds, consider starting a collection at your local mosque. Some resources for banners include www.silverenvelope.com, which has some pre-made banners, or you can design your own at websites like www.vistaprint.com, where you can even choose the language of your banner. You can expect to spend between 3-100 US dollars – depending on what your location, sizes of banners you want to donate, how many, and what other décor/resources you wish to include, such as books. (Side note: I loved the book An Eid For Everyone by Hina Islam. One school we donated this book to, added a few copies to the school library for students to borrow and share with their families at home. Teachers even started assigning students homework to do on Eid!)
And it is as simple as that! Parents of school-going children are ideal volunteers, but it is important to make sure you have dedicated volunteers. Educating the public through the school system is a powerful and effective blessing: Could you imagine the positive effect this project will have on Muslim children? Could you imagine the bridges that can be built between our community and the public?
I also suggest giving schools a ‘Thank You’ packet, consisting of a thank you note and educational materials used to be distributed to teachers, along with contact info for you or someone in your volunteer group.
Spread the Idea
Have your local masjid mention it during Jumuah lectures; ask to personally give a brief intro to this idea in your local masjid, suggest it at parent-teacher meetings; call friends and colleagues; and of course raise awareness online (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
Contact any Muslim community center in your area. Introduce them to this idea and see if they’d be interested in getting involved. Such places may have large numbers of people who can help. The steps to bring awareness are simple: a few minutes of effort can make a positive change and bring a better tomorrow for every generation of Muslims to come, InshAllah!
Shoot us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we can get everything shipped out to anywhere in the world (providing funds are available).
Do you like this idea? What have you done in your community to help make your children a part of the broader community? Leave your ideas and comments below!
About the Author
Marjana NasrAlla embraced Islam at the age of 20 while residing in NYC. She lived there right out of high school to look for a career in music & film. She met a brother who intervened in her future plans – if you will. Marjana also writes children’s books with the hopes that it can be the ‘DORA’ of our community. She hopes that her stories can be a cartoon on television channels such as PBS or Nick Jr.- a cartoon series that can build a bridge of understanding between our community & the world – through which our children can feel even more recognized. Marjana also volunteers at and helped establish an Islamic Studies class in the English language for the public at a local mosque – for those who do not understand Arabic.