Last Saturday, the 4th of October, marked the beginning of the three-day Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Adha (the Feast of the Sacrifice), the second of two religious holidays celebrated by Muslims worldwide. Eid generally begins with a congregational prayer, and in Galesburg, where the Muslim community is barely 20 people strong, there are no mosques. For the Muslim students at Knox and resident Muslims in town, the closest congregation with which to perform the Eid prayer is in Peoria.
For the past couple years, a Muslim resident in Galesburg named Rafi has been picking up the Muslim students at Knox and around Galesburg and driving them to and from the Eid prayers. It’s a little disconcerting, as an international student from a Muslim country where every second street has its own mosque, to have to drive to the neighboring city to be with “my” community on the biggest holiday of the year.
It certainly is something to get used to, as is being in a room full of strangers, offering our prayers and holding back all sorts of emotions pertaining to being in the middle of all these families without our own– which is a shared emotion resulting in bringing the few of us closer together at such an auspicious time. For most of us, it’s the first or second time being away from home for the holidays, and all of us are going through the same inner struggle, happy to share our home stories with each other. I know I enjoyed sharing stories about how my family celebrates Eid back home, and hearing the others tell me about their traditions– it felt like the start of a new tradition, just for us.
An interesting part about this Eid, for me, was to meet Dylan, a Muslim convert from Galesburg. Just the fact that, in a small Midwestern town with no mosques or other Islamic outlets besides the Islamic Club at Knox, there is a man who picked up a Quran and eventually decided to pledge himself to Islam leaves me awestruck. So does the fact that we were accompanied to Peoria with a non-Muslim Knox student, sophomore Rebekah Mahon, who was curious to see what Eid was all about for us. Explaining the different parts of the congregational proceedings to her pretty much made my day, as did getting to explain why we did certain things and what they meant, especially since I’ve never thought twice about them since it’s the norm back home but a novelty out here.
Personally speaking, and with the blessings of Islamic Club president sophomore Rohail Khan, I would like to see a greater number of non-Muslim students accompanying us next year. Eid in the U.S. presents us with an opportunity to share our traditions with people who may otherwise never have known this was happening, and it is as new an experience for them as it is for us. Great learning experience is an essential part of being at Knox– as President Teresa Amott said in her opening ceremony speech, “You learn the most from the people least like you.”