Islam, Jan - Mar 2005

Chicago’s Annual Latino Eid Al-Adha Festival

By Ricardo Pena

Chicago Association of Latino-American Muslims

Eid Al-Adha is the blessed holiday commemorating the event in which the Prophet Abraham, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, was going to sacrifice his son in submission to the will of God before He stayed his hand. This act is the epitome of submission and has since been the example for all of mankind to follow. It is fitting that it is upon this holiday that Muslims take their pilgrimage to Mecca to fulfill one of the five pillars of Islam.

For converted Muslims it is especially important to pay tribute to God and His messengers on this day, for it is this act of Prophet Abraham (pbuh) that, when carefully reflected upon, serves as a pure source of guidance. Before embracing Islam, many of us were not accustomed to this perspective as a pillar of understanding. Therefore, it is important for all Muslims to reflect on this event often and especially on this day. For our Latino Muslim community, we made sure it was going to be a blessed day of celebration.

Preparation for this event came on the heels of the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, the day of celebration for the breaking of the fast at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Two to three months before the holiday, we got together in a meeting and began to plan the order of the day. Items on the list that we had to take care of include flyers, signs, dinner, guest speakers, a raffle, a piñata, games and toys for the kids. Thankfully, we had taken up a collection at the previous Eid party and were prepared to purchase the children’s toys. The rest of the preparation involved refining our plans and staying in frequent contact with each other over the phone.

Yahya Lopez was especially diligent with keeping everyone in touch. His frequent calls fuelled the effort forward and would not have been a success without his direction. Sister Ruth Saleh was a force to be reckoned with. She’s like a mother to me in the sense that I feel like I’m in trouble if I don’t fulfill my responsibilities fearing I’m going to be grounded for the weekend though she is never harsh but extremely kind. The energy she brings to the community is humbling. Over fifty children have Edmund Arroyo to thank for the piñata they had fun beating up on, and my wife Diana was instrumental in not only keeping the food items organized but also keeping me organized both with the festival and myself at home.

The festival was set to start at 3:30 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. We expected most folks to wander in at about 4:00 to 4:30. I was no exception. Being one of the organizers, still I was late to the party getting there at close to 5 o’clock, running around doing some last minute things. My prayers will have to include a request to be blessed with punctuality someday. As the welcoming hour was winding to an end, the time was nearing for dinner.

I was given the task of being the evening’s MC and was then handed the microphone. I made an announcement for everyone to get ready to eat. The sisters would eat first and the brothers would wait. But before the feast, we reflected on this day with a recitation of the Quran. Brother Faisal, a Palestinian brother who lived in Puerto Rico for 18 years and speaks fluent Spanish with an authentic Puerto Rican accent, recited a few verses of the Quran that had to do with the Prophet Abraham. It was a beautiful recitation, and we reflected upon it. I explained the essence of Eid Al-Adha in English and in Spanish, so all could understand and also for the benefit of our non-Muslim guests.

The turnout was great! It was our biggest gathering ever. Though we didn’t have a count, we filled the cafeteria of the Universal High School at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, IL. Thankfully, there was more than enough food for everyone. We had a myriad of Latino dishes and Middle Eastern food. Guacamole on one side and humus on another. Rice and beans here and biryani there. The food was excellent, and we all had our fill.

As dinner wound to an end, we had more announcements to give to the crowd. Yahya Lopez and his wife Fatima recently had a baby girl – Naseema. The day before the festival, a Latino Muslim couple had gotten married as a direct result of our previous Eid Al-Fitr party last November. Also, brother Jorge Garcia’s mother, whom he had been inviting to Islam for almost a year now, became a Muslim after attending our previous Eid Al-Fitr festival as well. All praises to God, we have much to be thankful for. It is extremely rewarding to see the fruits of our efforts.

Originally, we had invited Dr. Omar Faruq Abdullah to give a talk at our event. Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen circumstances, he had to gracefully bow out of the occasion. In his place, we were given a talk by Humara Arroyo, Edmund’s wife, who spoke about their trip to Spain a couple of years ago. They were beautiful stories that nearly brought a tear to our eyes. After Humara’s talk, brother Adalberto, who works extensively with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), gave a speech to inform everyone about the efforts IMAN has been undertaking in the Latino community and enthusiastically encouraged everyone to find a way to volunteer their time.

After the talks were over, it was time for the activities we had planned for the evening. The sisters held a raffle while most of the brothers engaged in friendly conversation. All the while the kids had half of the cafeteria cleared of all tables and chairs and were running around having a grand ol’ time. For the most part, they played games at the direction of Soha, Ruth’s daughter, and another sister whose name I don’t recall. I cannot stress enough how awesome these two sisters were in keeping the children entertained and under control. Not only were the children kept in line but they also had a lot of fun. These two sisters did a wonderful job with the kids who were excited to get to the piñata and their toys.

While the sisters conducted their raffle and the rest of the adults mingled about, I gathered the kids for the beating of the piñata. In our previous festival, some folks expressed concern as to what the children would learn from what could be interpreted as a violent act. So this year, we made sure we had a talk with the children regarding the history and the purpose of the piñata.

Most Latinos don’t know the history of the piñata. As Muslims, it is important for us to know as the Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, taught us that it was okay to continue with the traditions of our culture that do not conflict with Islam. The piñata was originally created as a sphere with seven points. A seven-point star if you will. Each of the seven points represented one of the seven deadly sins. The beating of the piñata to get to the treats inside symbolized the defeat of our desires to commit those sins thereby earning the reward. It was much later that the piñata was commercialized forming efficacies of cartoon characters and the like. We stay true to the original intent of the piñata with a seven-point star, and this time I gathered the children and told them the story of the piñata.

It was important to connect the history of the piñata to Islam. “The points of the stars are sins,” I explained, “like not listening to your parents. And why don’t we listen to our parents?” I asked. “Because of our nafs (our inner desires).” And so I went on about how we must defeat ourselves in order to enjoy the rewards in this life and the hereafter. When they think of the piñata, they should think about struggling to avoid sin and look ahead to the reward they will get. Then we went on to the swinging of the star.

It wasn’t long before the piñata was broken and treats were strewn about the floor. The kids had a ball gobbling them up. After that, we handed out the toys. God handed down another miracle at this time. We did not anticipate that there would be so many kids. There were clearly at least fifty to sixty children. Thank God, we barely had enough toys for all of them. We were surely sweating, praying that some kid would not be left to cry. We got down to the oldest girls, and for three of them we did not have a gift. Since they were old enough, we reached into our pockets and handed them a $10 bill each for their gift. They were old enough to be extremely happy with the money rather than a toy.

The toughest part was over. From then on, we relaxed and enjoyed the evening until it was time to go. Little by little, guests were taking their leave until we had to invoke their departure. It was already nine o’clock and we had overextended our stay. I got on the microphone and asked for some help cleaning up and getting the tables and chairs back the way they were. We had plenty of help from brothers and sisters alike. I should also mention a good portion of our guests were not Latino, as all are always welcome to our functions, and many of them helped clean up. We are extremely thankful for their efforts. I regret that I cannot cite them by name but we pray that God will reward them many times over.

We finally got the place cleaned up until a few of us were left. I was the last to leave with a group of Mexican converts, a Columbian non-Muslim, and a Mexican non-Muslim. We went across the parking lot to the mosque and prayed Isha before heading home. After a brief talk with the brothers in the mosque, we finally went home.

The festival was a success. We had a big turnout getting approximately 75 Latino Muslims and 40 other Muslims to the event. We had about 15 to 20 non-Muslim guests to whom we’ve been educating about and inviting toward Islam, and this is all not to mention the 50 to 60 children that enjoyed the party. The food was delicious, diverse and abundant. We had great news to announce with the Lopez’s new baby, a marriage and a conversion. The kids had a blast with the piñata and their new toys, and we generally had a good time throughout. God willing, we look forward to bigger and better events in the following years.