OPINION | Compromising faith for class


In Saudi Arabia, my birthplace, it’s normal for everyone to take up to a week off from school and work to hear the exchange of the words “Eid Mubarak” – a celebratory greeting meaning “Blessed Eid” – to celebrate Eid. 

For Muslim students at the University of Minnesota, though, Eid Al-Adha, one of two Islamic holidays, fell within the two hectic weeks before the long Thanksgiving weekend this year. And the University didn’t give them much of a break.

Jihan Samatar is a University sophomore on the pre-medicine track who said her Eid this year was disappointing.

“This Eid hit in the middle of the semester, so it was hard to be with my family. I didn’t even go to prayer with my family,” she said.

Instead, she prayed close to campus so she could easily attend one of her classes in order to give a presentation and to take an exam later that day.

Typically, girls “get henna done” on their hands and shop at the Mall of America on Eid day, Samatar told me.

Instead of cooking large feasts for the occasion, it’s a tradition for most families in Minnesota to go to IHOP for breakfast, the mosque for activities and games, then Old Country Buffet for dinner.

But Samatar said she missed out on all that fun.

Gone unnoticed by most non-Muslims here, Eid Al-Adha – which roughly translates from Arabic as the “Feast of Sacrifice” – began last Tuesday.

Its purpose is to celebrate the conclusion of Hajj, the five-day pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, which is required at least once of every Muslim who can afford it.

Eid Al-Adha is important to Muslims because it’s about being grateful for what we take for granted and taking time to be with loved ones. Not taking time to celebrate it would be like not celebrating Christmas.

But sometimes instructors don’t understand that. This Eid, I requested an extension for a paper and wasn’t granted it. I believe part of it has to do with the lack of recognition of Eid as a religious holiday.

Every Eid morning, I’m faced with a dilemma every Muslim college student faces: Should I celebrate my religious holiday and risk being behind in class, or should I ditch the observance and go to class?

I had three classes the first day of Eid and an assignment and two papers due that week – a stark contrast from the festivities and 10-day breaks I was used to in Saudi Arabia.

After weighing the costs and benefits, I usually compromise. This year, I skipped my first class to go to the mosque for the morning Eid prayer, decided to attend a class, then spent time with friends and family.

But it’s a balancing act students shouldn’t have to do. Muslim students feel like they have to explain themselves if they decide to miss class, and it can get exhausting to choose between that every year or compromising our beliefs with no guarantee that we won’t be penalized for our absence.

Muslim students aren’t asking for a week off from school. But recognition from the University and a guarantee that we won’t be penalized for missing class would be enough to solve our annual Eid dilemma.

Celebrating Eid as a college student is nothing like how I observed the holiday as a child. In Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia, the atmosphere is saturated with excitement for the holiday.

Golden lights strewn along tree branches and tightly hugging tree trunks would emanate over downtown streets buzzing with the sound of honking cars.

Stores would be open late with bright posters enticing passersby to go in. Last-minute shoppers would give in as they frantically scrambled to buy gifts.

Mostly, I remember the gift-giving between relatives, friends and neighbors who would come over to enjoy large meals on tables laden with savory food, while the TV blared with shows aired for the special occasion.

Physiology sophomore Asma Day also has similar memories because she grew up in Oman. She said she decided to skip all of her classes and celebrate, even though her parents live there.

In Oman, she reminisced, “it was nice to know that every single person in the country is celebrating it with you. The stores would have special sales for Eid and the parks are filled with families celebrating Eid.”

“Restaurants have special buffets. Everywhere you go you’d be reminded of that. The atmosphere was festive wherever you went,” she said.

But that’s not what she felt here. Last year Day celebrated her first Eid as a college student without her Muslim family. She was living with non-Muslim relatives at the time.

“I didn’t do anything that Eid; it was awful. I woke up and no one said ‘Eid Mubarak’ to me, no one ate breakfast with me. They were all sleeping,” she said. “I didn’t even have a ride to the mosque. So I didn’t have an Eid last year.”

This year, she lives with her brother, a first-year student at the University. They missed classes to pray with hundreds of Twin Cities Muslims at the Minneapolis Convention Center, had a large brunch and then went rollerblading with friends and ended the day with a movie.

Both Samatar and Day ended up missing a pop quiz in their biology class, which they may not be able to make up. But they said skipping class to celebrate Eid was worth it, and I agree.

“It wasn’t half as bad as last year’s, but it wasn’t as good as it would have been in any other Muslim country,” Day told me. 

Lolla Mohammed Nur welcomes comments at lmohammed@mndaily.com.