Compromising faith for class

Muslim students at the University must choose between Eid and classes.

Lolla Mohammed Nur


In Saudi Arabia, my birthplace, itâÄôs normal for everyone to take up to a week off from school and work to hear the exchange of the words âÄúEid MubarakâÄù âÄî a celebratory greeting meaning âÄúBlessed EidâÄù âÄî 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 didnâÄôt 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.

âÄúThis Eid hit in the middle of the semester, so it was hard to be with my family. I didnâÄôt even go to prayer with my family,âÄù 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 âÄúget henna doneâÄù on their hands and shop at the Mall of America on Eid day, Samatar told me.

Instead of cooking large feasts for the occasion, itâÄôs 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 âÄî which roughly translates from Arabic as the âÄúFeast of SacrificeâÄù âÄî began last Tuesday.

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

Eid Al-Adha is important to Muslims because itâÄôs 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 donâÄôt understand that. This Eid, I requested an extension for a paper and wasnâÄôt granted it. I believe part of it has to do with the lack of recognition of Eid as a religious holiday.

Every Eid morning, IâÄôm 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 âÄî 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 itâÄôs a balancing act students shouldnâÄôt 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 wonâÄôt be penalized for our absence.

Muslim students arenâÄôt asking for a week off from school. But recognition from the University and a guarantee that we wonâÄôt 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, âÄúit 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.âÄù

âÄúRestaurants have special buffets. Everywhere you go youâÄôd be reminded of that. The atmosphere was festive wherever you went,âÄù she said.

But thatâÄôs 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.

âÄúI didnâÄôt do anything that Eid; it was awful. I woke up and no one said âÄòEid MubarakâÄô to me, no one ate breakfast with me. They were all sleeping,âÄù she said. âÄúI didnâÄôt even have a ride to the mosque. So I didnâÄôt have an Eid last year.âÄù

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.

âÄúIt wasnâÄôt half as bad as last yearâÄôs, but it wasnâÄôt as good as it would have been in any other Muslim country,âÄù Day told me. 

Lolla Mohammed Nur welcomes comments at [email protected].