Sunday, 12 August 2012

My Eid / Ramadaan Experience in Canada

My parents emigrated to Canada from South Africa when I was 11 months old.   My father found it difficult to open a business under the apartheid government, so when Pierre Elliot Trudeau altered the Immigration Act, opening up immigration for people of non-European descent, my father seized the opportunity with his dream of entrepreneurship.

We first lived in an area in Toronto called Thorncliffe, which had a growing population of new immigrants, but when I was 6 years old, my family moved to North York.  There were not many people of colour in the area, let alone Muslims.   My parents, at that time, did not understand how different it was for me to grow up in that environment, compared to them growing up in a community of Muslims.

At school we were only taught about Christmas and Hanukkah. I learned all the Christmas carols, but didn't understand why Santa never brought me a gift.  I had a "strange" name and although I'm quite fair, I was still on occasion called Paki (derogatory term for brown people).  Ramadan was quite challenging, as no one could understand why we would "starve" ourselves for 30 days.  There was no curriculum to educate that mine was not a torturous religion, but one of mercy.  There was a lack of communication between the teachers and parents so assumptions were formed about how cruel parents were to force their children to participate in something that was unhealthy for their kids. 

Some parents, being new immigrants, felt it necessary to impose stricter rules on their new Canadian children.  They needed to prove that their kids could be just as Muslim as the children back home.

I was first expected to fast at the age of 7.  It was summer so the sun would rise at approximately 5:30am and set at about 9:00pm.  As the only child fasting among my peers and with the long hours and the heat, it was very difficult. 

On Eid day, my father insisted I go for Eid Gah.  Under protest, I was dressed and taken to a massive hall with thousands of people and placed alone with my musallah in the women's section.  I remember the women being predominantly of Pakistani and Middle Eastern descent. At the end of salaat, I would make my way through the crowd to the front of the hall, trying to find my father or uncle or brother.  From the Eid Gah we would make our way to the cemetery to pray for the deceased.  This was the routine for many years.  I was thrilled when my younger cousin was old enough to attend Eid Gah with me.  I was not alone any more. 

We owned a business.  My mother and aunty would open the shop in the morning while the men went to Eid Gah.  After salaat, the men would go to the store and the women would go home.  In the evening we would get together with the rest of the family we had there, for supper.  Eid and Ramadan were the only times that my mother and aunty would prepare samoosas and pies.  On Eid day our spread was relatively small, with only one plate of samoosas, one plate of pies and maybe a few biscuits.  Women in Canada do not have the luxury of a domestic worker or the family and community support that is found here.  Most of them work as well, so a bare minimum with no excess or waste is what is prepared. 

The weekend after Eid, we would attend an Eid Function held for the South African community.  The grownups would reminisce about back home.  The children would develop lifelong friendships with each other.

This is my personal experience in the 70's/80's.  Things have changed a lot since then. The Muslim community is quite large.  Ramadan and Eid are now part of the curriculum in schools.   Children are excused from lunch room in Ramadan and can go to the library instead.  Provisions are made in some schools for Jumah salaat. 
Life is quite hectic there, so my family rarely sees each other.  Eid is a time we look forward to, as it is one of the times we know we will meet our family, not only for a meal, but at the Eid Gah as well.  South African women, who would refuse to go when they first immigrated, are now attending Eid salaat.  It is a family event.   My cousins are grown.  We play board games and have fun together.  We visit the more extended family and friends.  The children growing up there now have it much easier than the children of the newly immigrant families of yesteryear.

Contributed by Razeena Khan

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