Embracing humanity

Smiles were wide and tears flowed at an Eid al-Fitr celebration last Wednesday at First United Church.

Smiles were wide and tears flowed at an Eid al-Fitr celebration last Wednesday at First United Church.

Translated from Arabic as the “festival of breaking the fast,” it marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, 30 days when Muslims fast every day from sunrise to sunset. It is also a time of prayer.

Eid al-Fitr is a time to give to those in need, food such as  rice, barley, dates and figs to ensure the needy can have a holiday meal and participate in the celebration.

First United Church officials graciously invited Syrian refugee families to hold their first Eid al-Fitr in Canada in the church hall.

While there was laughter and congratulations from the 40-plus guests who attended the event, bringing with them customary gifts of fruit, sweets and flowers, there were poignant moments.

Safe from the horrors of bombings and torture, members of three refugee families were grateful to be able to hold this most important of Muslim celebrations in newfound freedom and peace.

But while they have physically left the horror of war and hardship of refugee camp life behind, they carry with them a burden of sorrow over broken family connections and horrific memories of loss and atrocities.

The loss was amplified last Wednesday as Eid al-Fitr normally brings family and friends together to share love, laughter and specially prepared food.

Salmon Arm’s first refugee, Mustafa Zakreet arrived in winter and has not only improved his ability to speak English, but is helping the more recently arrived adjust to life in their new community.

Like the Christian celebrations of Christmas and Easter, Eid al-Fitr traditionally begins with reverent songs and prayer.

While I could not understand words of the songs and prayers the adult refugees spoke and sang during last week’s celebration, it was evident they were meaningful and important to the refugees’ faith – one of the few solid “rocks” to cling to in their time of great tragedy.

I was touched to see two little boys mouthing the words as they sat quietly on the sidelines – a new generation learning the  teachings of a beautiful religion.

I am also extremely touched and grateful that in this time of great world divisiveness and hate, much of it based on race and religion, First United has provided a room within the church to be used as a mosque.

This, and the attitude of acceptance and honour shown by the people who attended last week’s celebration are, I believe, requisite for moving beyond fear and hatred through a door to celebrating not only our unique cultures, but the intrinsic humanity we share as people of the world.