Last night the Muslim Students Association put on their annual Eid al-Adha dinner – one of the largest and most diverse gatherings of Muslims on campus. Mark Hay happily sampled the food, music and entertainment on offer.
Thanks to the vigorous push of outreach, this year’s celebration was one of the largest in memory and also saw a large attendance of non-Muslims. Not that it would have mattered if your correspondent had been the only non-Muslim in the room. As noted by guest-speaker, author and expert on Muslim diversity Haroon Moghul, Eid al-Adha is the perfect observance of the Muslim faith to remember and reinforce the point of unity despite magnificent diversity within the Islamic community and beyond. Memorializing Ibrahim (Abraham)’s near-sacrifice of his only son to Allah and observed in conjunction with a portion of the Hajj, Moghul notes, Eid al-Adha utilizes the common rituals, collective memories and holy geographies to stress the points of connection between not just Muslims, but all adherents to Abrahamic faiths.
Moghul drove home this point – the unifying power of common rituals and spaces – with the story of his family’s temporary adoption of a group of Kosovar Muslim refugees in 1999. Sharing no points of language or external culture in common with these white, blonde, blue-eyed guests, and hampered by a significant language barrier, Moghul took to referring to one of the children as “Baklava,” as, he believes, that is the one word all cultures have in common. And the one food item every nation believes itself to have invented.
But, said Moghul, when he took the boy to a Friday prayer ceremony, despite the child’s initial shock at realizing there were black Muslims in the world, he immediately fell into the ritual of the event, carrying out the same actions with the same level of confidence and awareness as all those other Muslims he had no other commonality with.
And nothing about last night’s celebration could have been considered foreign or isolating to any party in attendance, save, possibly, for a Qur’an recitation by Taimur Malik (CC’11). However the recitation was a warbling and plaintive song, each syllable morphing into a long and quivering note echoing about the room. The reading was even more impressive given that, in his subsequent introduction of Moghul, Malik revealed his true speaking style – rather flustered, fast, without any sense of pause or consideration for the comprehension of the audience. Whatever grace moved such a speaker to deliver such a recitation is a great one indeed.
The rest of the evening was devoted to those things that anyone would appreciate – good, free music and good, free food. Before dinner the audience was treated to a performance by a three-piece representation of the renowned New York Arabic Orchestra – the first organization of its kind in America. Their music, sliding between traditional compositions and moments of modified jazzy improvisation, lulled the audience into a head-bobbing, clapping mass. Likewise, the more South Asian folk-jazz performance by the Brooklyn Qawwali Party after dinner had the room captivated. Much to the credit of the thematic planners on MSA, after Qawwali had finished their set, one confused student was overhead to utter the following: “what was that? I mean, that could have been Latino or anything,” to which a savvier friend responded, “I think that was kinda the point.”
Oh, there was also a comedian, Ahmed Bharoocha. Occasionally peeking at the phone in his pocket to check if he had fulfilled his obligation, Bharoocha muddled through the night with a mishmash of random and rough bits. His timing was off, and he received only one consistent laugh for his smattering of stereotypical and under-delivered race-family-observation-based jokes. Overall, hardly the most satisfying end to an otherwise smashingly successful night.
Also unfortunately, one of the more endearing and vital components of the evening fell upon deafened ears. Eid al-Adha traditionally involved the slaughter of an animal as sacrifice and the donation of the meat to the poorest members of society. In merciful substitution for the sake for the queasy and the cleaning staff, MSA chose to replace this offering with a call for donations to a fund for the displaced and battered civilians of the war-torn Pakistani region of Waziristan. The plea for donations, though, was made as the audience milled about amongst themselves in line for dinner. As such, most attendees only caught hints and snippets of the speech on the charity (the name of the charity was, foolishly, not on the program).
Although the flow of the night was somewhat odd and disjointed, the comedian sub-par, and the unfortunate relegation of a worthy charity to the worst possible space of the evening, the night should nevertheless be considered a success. Eid al-Adha may not bring out as many non-practitioners or as total and joyous an audience as Diwali, but it is certainly growing. After all, MSA achieved its purpose – uniting a diverse group of Muslims and others around good food and good music, without debate or difficulty, in absolute peace and joy. Eid Mubarak.