30Mosques.com | Eid Celebration Revisited

The following post was written by Nzinga Knight, a New York based fashion designer who grew up attending Masjid Khalifa in Brooklyn.

Becoming an eveningwear designer evolved out of me wanting to have the right dress for Eid.

At my mosque then people go hard for Eid. The cooks put their heart into the food, we have an entertainment program that is unrivaled, and people come out dressed in their best. That is, those who can and those who planned. When I began my fashion path then I didn’t imagine that I would become an eveningwear designer. But little did I know that my subconscious yearnings to be glamorous whenever the moment called for it would soon permeate into my reality and culminate into me becoming the eveningwear designer that I am today.

Up until I was a teenager my parents were able to simply buy me a dress that was kid appropriate and we’d go out for some family fun. As I grew older then I realized that simply going shopping was no longer an option. So getting ready for Eid; the dress, the shoes, and the scarf was a frustrating experience. As a teenager then I’d come to the mosque looking business chic at best while the other ladies had dresses on that had been planned out with their seamstress from weeks before. I’d ask my dad if he could get a dress made for me and he’d reply “Well then that would mean that I’d have to do the same for your other five sisters”.

By the time I reached my 3rd year at Pratt as a Fashion design major I’d figured out how to turn $150 bucks into something really fabulous, and include some shoes and a beaded scarf into my budget too. So with my new ingenuity I convinced my dad to give me $150 bucks towards my Eid dress fund.

I thought, “this time I’ll show up to Eid looking the way that I want to look… fabulous!” But little did I know that what began, as a vanity pursuit would end up feeling more like second rites of passage.

The Eid program at Muhsi Khalifa tends to begin at about 5pm and end at 9pm. It was my senior year at Pratt at I had 5 designs that I was working on for my thesis. They were a bit complicated as every new design is an adventure. I’d decided that I’d duplicate the prototype for one style, a fuchsia and bordeaux red dress into my Eid 2004 dress. So with the budget that my dad gave me I purchased the fabric, and beads and proceeded to create my dress. After 50+ hours of altering my patterns and cutting and sewing, my dress was ready. My twin sister had been filming my senior year for months and so we figured we’d jump in a cab and head to the mosque for me to have my moment.

After 10 minutes in the cab we finally arrived. Up the stairs I went and into Akbar Hall I entered… at 9:05!

The program was O-V-E-R and there were scatterings of people. But that wouldn’t stop me. I finally looked like a million bucks and I was extremely proud. So whoever was there was going to be the audience for the debut of my dress. With about a half hour left until the hall would completely shut down I greeted the people who were there and received tons of compliments on my dress. My 50 plus hours of work and my dads $150 culminated in a half hour of extreme happiness and personal gratification.

I’ve had many happy days but this was different, I had created something that was able to alter my entire experience, even if for only a half hour. I imagined what a full evening of glamour would be like. I realized that I have a talent that can change a mood and enhance an experience. This was a pinnacle moment for me. I was able to go from a girl scrambling for clothes to a well-put together woman. At that moment then I was being the glamorous woman that I always wanted to be.

Nowadays, my Eid timing is much better. I’m usually able to start the day in a dress. This year then because I was grasping for extra sleep in the morning then I had to leave the house dressed casually in order to catch the Eid prayer and brunch. I felt like I was in black and white while everyone else seemed to be in Technicolor. But of course I knew that blocks away there hung my beautiful dress and my fancy shoes. So as soon as we could break out I went home (at around 11am) so that I could attempt to look as lovely as the day was.

During Eid day then there’s music all day long including R&B Nasheed’s and old school classics, Michael Jackson and a whole bunch of other stuff… basically whatever the resident DJ feels like mixing up. When I arrived back at my mosque there were the sounds of children enjoying their carnival in the Cultural enlightenment center on one side of the complex and the sounds of live jazz playing on the other side of the complex in Akbar Hall. Between 11-5 then the teenagers traditionally go roller skating or bowling.

When I entered Akbar Hall I checked with one of the older women to report to my volunteer duty of the day. I was famished so I decided that I’d eat first and give my taste buds a whirl. The food was great! The talented cooks offered an array of African American and Caribbean food. For the next few hours then I and several other volunteers assisted in serving the food to hundreds of people.

By the time most people had finished eating it was time for Magrib. After we prayed then I joined my family at a table and the show really began. While the audience enjoyed the show I understand that this show is not for every one. At the same time anyone who I have invited to come to Eid non-Muslim and Muslim, European, African or American has really enjoyed Eid day at Khalifa and felt welcomed.

I’ve been to other mosques Eid celebrations where people pray, exchange gifts and their only form of entertainment is conversation and that certainly would not be the kind of celebration we’d aspire to at this mosque. Within the 1billion plus Muslims in this world and all of the cultures that we cross then Muslims have various temperaments and ways of cultural expression. And the show at Muhsi Khalifa is certainly not an attempt at some imagined generic Islamic celebration.

It is definitely culturally appropriate and catered to the African American audience at Muhsi Khalifa who enjoy it and anyone else who enjoys high energy Barry White, James Brown, Tina Turner and The Supremes, performances and wouldn’t mind seeing 50+ year old (probably post-menopause) women and men do it. See, the folks at Khalifa fully embrace their blackness, being American and Islam and the cultural expression is a fusion of the two.

Each year’s program is a bit different. This year then there was a Barry White impersonator, a live jazz band and a very energetic female duo. With modest clothing on, the lead singer began Tina Turners “Proud Mary”. During the beginning add lib she said “cause around here we do Karate” (we do have Karate classes at Khalifa) and did a very high kick (she obviously takes classes). She sang and performed both on stage and in the midst of the crowd as other women (over 50 and probably post menopause) got up and danced with her. The one niqabi (face veil) woman in the room gave the others a run for their money as far as who was hypest. She had a bunch of cute bopping dances and steps that made her fabric sway. The audience fully enjoyed the show and they received roaring applause.

One of my favorite moments from Eid night was when as the singer ended “I feel good” then in her best James Brown inspired voice she said “Hit Me!!!… Now lets go make salat”

To finish off the program we had a young African American brother do some recitation. That was the best music of the night. The room was silent as everyone was being attentive to the blessing that the moment was and the day had been. We finally ended the program with one of the MC’s leading us in cleanup. As the resident DJ played the house music song “Come with me” the MC rhythmically said, “All right ya’ll, we messed it up, so now we’ve got to clean it up”. So with everyone now out of their seats and cleaning to the beat we had the hall back in order within the time span of a song.

Eid is a celebration! It’s a day to look good, feel good and do good things. I pray that I nailed it this year. The Eid celebration signifies the general feeling of this community. And I am inspired in many ways by how we come together on this wonderful day. We eat together, we pray together, we celebrate together and we work together. And while we have leaders it’s never just the burden of one person or a small group of people to make things happen. It’s families and friends coming together as a community. Everybody’s got to look beautiful, feel beautiful, and be beautiful in order to make an Eid celebration on this level happen.

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