Yesterday night I came across a very interesting post on a blog I have been reading for quite some time. In her article a young American woman married to a Saudi national, talked about the way she experienced being a Muslim in America vs. being a Muslim in Saudi Arabia.
These words brought back memories of my very first years in Berlin where I spent several years living in a district with a very high Muslim population. Islam, though in very different forms of practice, has somewhat been omnipresent around me all the way from the streets and shops in our part of town to my friends, classmates and teachers in elementary school. In fact, now that I think of it, the very often used word haram and the meaning of halal meat had become a solid part of my vocabulary before I even knew how to count to 100 (I was 8 years old at the time).
So today I want to bring together some memories I have of the Eid holiday, before all of it vanishes as I get older.
At the end of one school day around January 2003 our teacher announced that all Turkish kids were allowed to stay home the next day but all the non-Turkish children were supposed to show up to class as usual.
It took me a couple of years to actually be fully aware of the cultural differences between me, the only Christian girl in class, and the rest of the children. Sure I knew that they all came from Turkey, Pakistan or some Arab country, that at the end of the day they stayed back in school for another hour for Turkish lessons and that my friends had to eventually leave me behind on the playground to make it to Qu’ran school on time. But my registration of all this took place somewhere in the back of my mind, blending in with everything else. It seemed as natural to me to sing Turkish songs in music class and greet our teachers in a chorus of German, English, Turkish, Arabic and Polish “good mornings”, as it was for me to cut out paper snowflakes to decorate our classroom in winter and color sheets with Easter bunnies in spring.
When I came to school the day after the announcement, the building was as quiet as never before. I sat in the empty classroom for a while until one of the students showed up. He was the only Christian boy in class. Few minutes later we were joined by a boy who had a Christian mother and a Muslim father. Lastly I saw my friend Latifa sticking her head through the open door and that was it for our class.
That day, as I was explained later, was Eid al-fitr, the celebration taking place at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which among us children was known as Zuckerfest or sugar feast because of all the candy my friends claimed to receive.
Out of the maybe 500 children who usually made up the student body, only seven were present that day. Out of those seven, three Muslim kids decided to come to school out of solidarity so that their Christian friends wouldn’t be so alone and had someone to play with. Even though it was not an official holiday in Berlin (and as far as I know it still isn’t), our school decided to excuse all Muslim children who wanted to spend the day with their family to celebrate, just like Christian kids were excused on certain catholic or protestant holidays which were not official holidays.
As this “phenomenon” kept repeating over the next few years, it became my favorite day of the school year. We had to show up to class and attendance was taken but we spent the whole day playing around and doing whatever we wanted under the supervision of one of the teachers who were also obligated to show up. There was even a 25-minute recess every two hours as usual and the cafeteria opened just for us seven.
There was something unbelievably special about having the whole building to ourselves. While on regular school days I had to wait for ages until it was my turn to use the swings, during Eid there were just enough swings for the few of us. We also knew that on this day there would be more than enough fresh waffles with sugar for us to buy at the cafeteria because there would be no one else who could get them all before us.
At the end of the day I am sure that those of us who had to show up to school on Eid had no less of a great time than our classmates who tried to make us jealous by telling us about all the candy and money they would be getting.