We woke up at 5am today to make the 6:30am Eid-ul-Fitr prayer at Al Aqsa. We had to make sure we gave ourselves enough time to go through the crowds, which was a shuffle dance to the masjid. It was nice to not see the primary color umbrellas of the merchants that cluttered Damascus Gate during Ramadan. Today, every shop was closed and padlocked except for a few young knuckleheads trying to make their last dime by selling children’s toys along the route to Al Aqsa. When did making a shekel in the dunya (world) ever compare to the reward of the akhira (hereafter)? When did it not become compulsory for males to pray? Lord knows I’m trying to make excuses for them but I’m running out…perhaps they were Palestinian Christians who got real smart at marketing to the Muslims?!?
Once we were in the Al Aqsa precinct, it wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be (at least in the women’s section a.k.a Dome of the Rock). There was room to walk and for children to play. I didn’t need the baby hand “leash” that I bought in case Allah forbid, my toddler was to go away during my prayer. Eid prayer at Al Aqsa was actually pretty disappointing… People talked during the khutba. Shoot, people didn’t even stay for the khutba–women and men alike. There was a mass exodus of people after the 2 rakat Eid prayer and the Dome of the Rock emptied as if people were just making a sunnah prayer. Those that did stay mostly talked. And I grew sad, reminiscing on the last truly good Eid prayer I attended in Richmond, Virginia 6 years ago. I still remember what the Eid khutba was about then–the unity of the ummah, or really, lack thereof.
After Eid prayer came further disappointment. In a land rife with conflict and violence, people were selling toy rifles to children and their parents, and everyone wanted them. Someone tell me please, how does marketing the same rifles that Israeli soldiers carry as toys stop a cycle of violence and bring peace to this part of the Middle East? You know, growing up, I never was allowed to have any kind of gun as a toy…even a water gun. Sure, I wanted one and wanted one bad. They looked so “fun”. But violence, even at play, is never fun. And I thank my Mami for building that culture of peace in our home, even when we could hear gunshots down the street.
After Eid prayer, we took a nap and then the highlight of my day came–visiting with my friend and sister, Ana, who lives in Ramallah, with her 5 precious girls, my adopted nieces. The only nice thing about traffic in Ramallah is traffic in Ramallah on Eid. It was beautiful, people. Hardly anyone coming in, hardly anyone going out. The checkpoint posed no problem for us and we were about to get to our “family’s” home and talk, feast, and exchange gifts. Taking advantage of the lack of cars, we toured the many villages and towns of Ramallah and even stopped at a neighbor’s farm to check out their goats, cows, chickens, ducks, and pet camel. Some of their animals are bought for sacrifices for aqiqas (birth celebrations) and Eid ul Adha (the greater Eid that marks the end of the pilgrimmage to Mecca). My traditional Palestinian thobe was admired by the women of the town as they checked the hand embroidery on it (tatreez). I don’t think they ever saw one like mine before. Each region has it’s own cross-stitch symbolism and style. The thobe I wore was from Hebron a.k.a Khalil and it was altered with green satin on the sleeves and bottom to fit me. I think I might have started something here…perhaps a new trend where the old style of embroidery meets new fabric combinations. All because I’m 5’6″, needed a nursing/breastfeeding opening, and am thinner than the thobe’s previous owner.
When you are landlocked in a place like Ramallah without the right to leave, you are closed to the outside world except what is brought to you either through TV, Internet, or curious American tourists :). Upon visiting one person, we often must visit many more, as we are not the only ones doing the only sightseeing, we are also being toured by a people who hardly ever get to meet American Muslims. We are the sight to see. People can’t believe we are American Muslims. We can hear the guessing game as people follow us on the streets or talk amongst each other (“I think he is from Sudan, no maybe India. She is from Indonesia”). They couldn’t be more wrong about our ethnicities, but if we can bring a smile to these people by our presence, then fadali (go ahead). Side note: today we saw the first black people we’ve seen this whole week at Eid prayer. We’ve seen some Ethiopian Jews here and a Muslim lady from Chad, but this was a big group of Muslims from West Africa…about 50+ people, a welcome sight when there is hardly an”other” type of Muslim here besides Ana and us. The British Muslims already left. 😦
Over and over again, I am asked where are the American Muslims? Why don’t they come and visit us? Don’t you find Palestine sweet (hilou)? What do the American Muslims think of us? Do you think you’ll ever come back?
Being polite, I usually say I find Palestine sweet, though I find much to be wrong. I do wish to come back, I do, inshallah. And bring more American Muslims to liven your faces and humble our hearts. But American Muslims are scared. And frankly, sometimes, in your part of town where I can’t tell a real gun from a plastic one and some streets smell like urine and garbage and there are hardly any working traffic lights or people obeying common courtesy driving laws, I’m also scared. I’ve never been smacked in my face with so much poverty before…where children as young as 7 are still outside at night near the checkpoint selling stuff…junk…to make money. They should be enjoying their Eid. But then I remember the ghettos and barrios of America, and DC, where I grew up. Then, I think, maybe, just maybe, if I close my eyes, I could live here. It’s not so bad…it’s not so different…But maybe I wouldn’t live here in Ramallah where lawlessness seems to be the law. Perhaps in Al Quds which reminds me a little bit more of home. I just can’t imagine someone telling me I have to stay put in my city because I don’t have an I.D. I can’t imagine someone landlocking me to my little quadrant of Souhwest, which only contains a portion of the Smithsonian and being cut off front the rest of it…being cut off from family…
One thing that runs true no matter where we go in Palestine…these people love their land and are connected to it. They are proud of it. Every Palestinian we meet wants to give us a tour of their grapevines, fruit trees, and land. They feed us and offer us fruit from their trees. They remind me a lot of American Indians (Native Americans) and the plight of other indigenous people struggling under colonization. They keep on going, passing down their culture within the greater influence of the colonizing culture, in the hopes that their children and those that visit them never forget.
And inshAllah, I will never ever forget.