The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect South Asia Scene’s editorial policy.
By Tahmida Zaman
It’s 3:24am on Chaand Raat (night before Eid). If it wasn’t for the TV blaring out the obligatory ‘Romzaner oi Roza’r Sheshe Elo Khushi’r Eid’ (traditional song sung during Eid), the khushi’r (happy) Eid might have missed me completely. It’s quiet outside, way past the average Brit’s bedtime. Without the cheery Facebook greetings and forwarded texts, you wouldn’t even know that an entire community would be celebrating its biggest holiday tomorrow. Approximately 10,906 kilometers away, things couldn’t be more different…
Sweaty bodies push and shove other sweaty bodies in a desperate bid to get closer to that dubiously-named kameez. Street urchins look on as yet another BMW arrives at Westin for the night’s festivities. Give it a few more days and they’ll be clambering on top of each other to leave it all behind. Those that stay back take to the streets, sometimes the ice-cream parlours. The routine is known, made fun of and followed- in that order.
Dhaka has been commercialising every aspect of our lives over the last few years. Even small, foreign days like Friendship Day have been given airtime and are being blown out of proportion. So when it comes to something as big as Eid, you can bet that all the fresh new BBA grads will be itching to milk it to the max. Eid collections come out weeks in advance, and people sit through four-hour traffic jams to buy said Eid collections… when was Eid ever about the clothes? All Islam says is that your outfit must be clean for the morning prayers. Culture however says, no-dictates, that sholo ta jama chara Eid hobe na (Eid isn’t complete without sixteen different outfits). Years of not questioning how well a curious custom actually goes with Eid has left us today with the ridiculous situation of a ‘Sunny Leone Kameez’ on our Pakistani-imported mehndi-stained hands.
London sinks into quiet persistence
Somehow, it is London that I find captures the essence of Ramadan better than its Muslim-majority counterpart. Compared to the consumerist image we have of The West, Ramadan and Eid are surprisingly humble. Here, fasting is something one does because they want to. There is no overly-disapproving uncle frowning at them if they’re not. Where Dhaka erupts in a manic frenzy come Ramadan, London sinks into quiet persistence, even as fasting times are almost 20 hours long. Londoners don’t get time off or late starts and early finishes. Nor does the ‘Roza rekhe amake ragaben na kintu’ (don’t test my patience as I am fasting) line work around here. Still, you’ll find the masjids full even at 1am on a school night.
An oft-quoted line from the Quran reads ‘There is no compulsion in religion’. Another hadith says, ‘All actions of the son of Adam are for Him, except for fasting, for verily I shall reward for it’. And yet, the growing divisions within society mean that it is more acceptable to carry out religious policing than ever. Since when has shaming anyone into fasting made them a better Muslim? The secret to why many Westerners practice Islam perhaps more devoutly than in Muslim-majority countries might be the fact that they have chosen the religion for themselves rather than to avoid awkward questions from those around them.
The cultural homogeneity we have in Bangladesh, whilst being a marketer’s dream, could well be the reason why Ramadan has lost its religious significance to a segment of society. When not participating religiously equals ‘not being one of us’, it is no wonder that people will turn to alternative, cultural means of belonging. Consequently, more time looking up iftar buffet deals and less time with the tafseer.
London, being the multicultural capital of the world, has Muslims of all cultures and levels of faith. With too many customs and traditions to navigate, Muslims here learn to connect through religion rather than through culture. And here, we experience the true spirit of the Muslim ummah- celebrating differences and similarities alike.
There is a lot that Dhaka could learn from this, especially as we are going through a period of soul-searching regarding culture and religion at the moment. There are those who firmly believe that the two should never mix, and in this case I would have to totally agree with them. It’s time Dhaka woke up from it’s consumerist Eid nightmare and began to question the traditions obscuring the religious obligations. If there ever was a time to separate the two, now would be perfect, please.
Eid mubarak from across the pond. And no, going to Amari instead of Westin doesn’t make it any better.