Celebrating Eid Al Adha at a home away from home

By Rhytha Zahid Hejaze

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Eid Al Adha (Arabic for Festival of the Sacrifice) is celebrated by Muslims all around the world on 10 Dhu Al Hijjah, the twelfth month of the lunar-based Islamic calendar. It commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, on Allah’s command before Allah intervened and replaced Ishmael with a lamb.

I’m a journalism sophomore at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), and this year I spent my second consecutive Eid away from my home in Lahore, Pakistan. While a lot of things are different here, there’s still a sense of home in the Eid festivities.

Eid in Doha, Qatar, is celebrated with a lot more zeal! The whole country gets a week off; there are festivals and shows all around, along with the mandatory fireworks at Katara, a cultural village. This year, the fireworks at Katara Beach started from the first day of Eid, October 4, and continued until October 7.

Diving into my first day of Eid, I woke up at 6:30 in the morning to get to my job as the front desk assistant at the residence halls. I was torn between wearing my PJs and dressing up. After wrestling with my I’m-lazy-and-I-don’t-care and I-want-to-look-beautiful self for a while, I decided to wear the turquoise dress I brought back from Pakistan this summer.

This was the earliest I’d ever been up on Eid.

“Today’s Eid, right?” I asked two girls heading to the halls as I made my way to the front desk. I was afraid I dressed up on the wrong day. It just didn’t feel like Eid; I went to City Center Mall the night before and nothing seemed to hint at Eid apart from a sheep advertisement. Sheep were either being sold for as little as $70 or there was something about the advertisement in Arabic that I didnt understand.

Work was slow; nobody really came to the front desk in the early mornings. I decided to entertain myself with the movie, V for Vendetta – thereby fulfilling two important rituals of Eid: dressing up and watching TV, by only 11 a.m.

I got back to my room. I cleaned it and then cleaned it some more. I had clean towels and undergarments, so laundry could’ve waited for a couple of days or more. By 2 p.m. I went to bed for a little nap, and so ritual number three, sleeping, proceeded unimpeded.

Eid Al Adha had a tirelessly predictable pattern back home, where it is also known as Bakra Eid (meaning goat festival in Urdu and cow festival in Arabic) and Bari (Big) Eid. Id wake up in the late morning, but early enough to watch the goats being sacrificed in our garage or someone else’s garage. The butcher would say, “Allah O Akbar! (Allah is great!)” before he’d slit the goat’s neck and blood would spurt out on the floor. The goat would then be hanged upside down to make sure all the blood oozed out as the butcher would slice the goat’s skin off – careful not to tear it. Id sit and watch until the goat’s intestines would be out and all the meat would be chopped up and put in portions (one portion for family, one for relatives and one for the poor) into plastic bags. There certainly have been a few occasions when I woke up to the disappointment of having missed the sacrifice.

For lunch, Mama would cook delicious goat livers, lungs, hearts and kidneys, which I miss. I loved eating them as much as my elder sister despised them. Its been two years now since Ive gotten the chance.

It might be surprising how many students stay back for Eid – some are broke, some want to spend time with friends or just be alone, and some, like me, have cut off from their families for the time being.

Northwestern isn’t the only US university with a space in Education City. Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, Weill Cornell Medical College and Virginia Commonwealth University are all part of it – each offering different majors and programs, but together operating as a cohesive whole. Students share the same dorms, but males and females are segregated because segregating the sexes is ‘essential’ to maintain this world’s equilibrium.

At around 6:30 p.m., I witnessed yet another internal battle; this time between my I-wanna-stay-in-bed and I-wanna-see-my-friends self, over going to the Eid dinner in around an hour at Majlis Al Janoubi, the male residence halls. This struggle resonated with Eid last year when I wanted to stay in and hibernate but my elegant red dress demanded that I put it on.

There’s been a tradition in the residence halls for the past three years: the upperclassmen cook Eid dinner or lunch for the freshmen – to make them feel at home, and build a sense of community on their first Eid away from home. No one should have to eat alone on Eid.

I arrived a little before time, and enjoyed the compliments brought on by my desi embroidered dress as we waited around for everyone to show up.

Shahan Memon, a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon, was cooking Singaporean rice along with his much-loved dessert, Chocolate Delight. He cut his fingers a bit and arrived with his roommate, Shakeeb Asrar, a sophomore at Northwestern, at around 8:45 p.m. Everyone started cheering when they made their grand entrance. And then the eating began.

Taimur Rizwan, another sophomore at Carnegie Mellon, made chicken nihaari. I always thought there could only be a cow or goat nihaari, but I guess I was wrong.

“Nihaari’s a masala [gravy], he told me. You can cook it with anything.”

The chicken nihaari was my favorite of all the dishes. Nahel Tunio, a first-year at Weill Cornell Medical College, said she loved the homemade food the most. I didn’t even try the ordered dishes.

“I’m away from home, but I love my friends here too and for me, being with friends is a lot more fun than being at home and sitting in front of the TV all dolled up,”I wrote about Eid last year.

Things are the same this year, except that I miss home. I keep picturing Mamas once-in-a-year Eid cooking from two years ago, but I cant put my finger on the last time I saw my niece, Eshaal, even though I went back just this May. I guess this time last year my freshman self was still in awe of the newness of Doha and the feeling of adventure that newness induced, but that feeling has now worn thin. There are certainly bits of Eid that I enjoy more here and then there are bits of Eid that I miss from back home, but that just comes with having bits of myself at both places. “Home is where the heart is,”as Pliny the Elder would say, and for most of us, our hearts are split between the two.

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