Thousands of Muslims in Connecticut visited mosques around the state last Friday to celebrate the end of Ramadan. The holiday is called Eid al-Fitr, a joyous celebration of prayer, gift-giving, and community gathering, that entails feast that can last up to three days.
At the Berlin Mosque, crowds gathered outside to take photos, hug, and exchange the greeting “Eid Mubarak,” an Arabic well-wishing meaning “blessed festival.”
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of a month-long fast from early morning to sunset each day. Ramadan is also a time of ample spiritual reflection and charitable giving.
While Eid Al-Fitr is a day for mirth, spiritual leaders at the Berlin Mosque did not shy away from commenting on the recent shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where five U.S service men were killed.
The attack on the Tennessee military base, coupled with an ISIS suicide bombing in Iraq that left 120 dead on the eve of Eid al-FItr, has made this holy month a difficult one.
The prayer leaders at the Berlin Mosque encouraged those attending to speak out against the recent attacks and to condemn them as antithetical to the principles of Islam.
“The couple of attacks were very difficult to comprehend the day before Eid,” said Dr. Reza Mansoor, a Hartford Hospital cardiologist, and president of the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford, an organization based at the Berlin Mosque.
“The first principle of Shari’ah [law] is the protection of life,” Mansoor said. “An attack on one life is an attack on all of humanity.”
The Muslim Coalition of Connecticut, an organization Mansoor helped found, has made large efforts in Connecticut to facilitate conversations with other religious groups in the state and the community at large about the fundamentals of Islam.
Members of the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford, like Tariq Latif, a physician from Rocky Hill and attendee of the Berlin Mosque, feel that these outreach efforts are working.
“They’re not just focused on the Islamic community. They do good deeds for the community in general,” Latif said. “I think they’re blending very well with the American culture and community here, and to educate them on what Islam is.”
For Mariam Abdi, a 20-year-old student at the American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts, observing Ramadan meant engaging more with her religion and taking a few steps back from technology.
“I tried to let go of technology. I stopped going on Facebook or watching too much television,” she said. “It’s a month of trying to gain good.”
Having attended the Berlin Mosque up until she graduated high school, Abdi is no stranger to Connecticut’s Muslim American community, which she describes as “very strong” and “abundant.”
According to Mongi Dhaouadi, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Council on American Islamic Relations, there are around 100,000 American Muslims living in Connecticut.
“Connecticut is a special place,” Abdi said. “People here have a sense of unity.”
In the United States, Eid al-Fitr is not only a day about celebrating the end of Ramadan, but also celebrating Muslim identity.
The Muslim Coalition of Connecticut created the Eid Carnival to do just that. Hosted this year at Lake Compounce two days after Eid al-Fitr, the Eid Carnival is meant to create a space for Muslim Americans to celebrate the holiday openly, and to feel safe expressing their religion in public.
Over 2,000 people attended the carnival.
When not riding wooden roller coasters and sitting lakeside, carnival attendees enjoyed a halal buffet, the Muslim equivalent of a kosher meal, as well as a group prayer.
With the Chattanooga attack and the massive Iraq death toll, for which ISIS took responsibility on Twitter, casting a dark cloud over the holiday, the carnival came at a welcomed time.
“Muslims need a break, and that’s why we put so much effort into giving them a happy Eid,” Mansoor said.
Events like the Eid Carnival allow for a sense of cohesion within the Muslim community of Connecticut.
Mansoor noted that the Muslim and American identities are often seen as mutually exclusive. He hopes that spiritual and community programming will help to remedy that assumption by creating an avenue for Muslims in Connecticut to talk about their religion and express themselves.
“We want to dispel the myth that you either have to be a Muslim or an American. There is a lot of feeling that you have to choose between Islam and America," Mansoor said. "You don’t have to choose. You can be a good Muslim and a good American.”
Although religious bias is still a great concern on a national scale, Mansoor feels that, at least in Connecticut, progress has been made.
“In our local circles, we have a feeling that things are getting better,” Mansoor said.
Katie McAuliffe is an intern at WNPR.