Celebrating Eid with friends that are like family

The growing Muslim population has Shakeel Gaya reminiscent of life back home in Pakistan, but that wasn't the case when he immigrated to Canada in 1996.

By Joti Grewal | July 8, 2022 |5:00 am

In Pakistan, Shakeel Gaya’s Eid celebrations included several families and countless hours of food and fun. Those celebrations shrunk after he immigrated to Canada 25 years ago, but the Fraser Valley’s Muslim community has grown since then—and so has Gaya’s guestlist.

When Gaya immigrated to Burnaby in 1996 with his wife and three children, he celebrated Eid with just one other Muslim household.

“We went to somebody’s house for dinner and that was nice, instead of spending Eid alone,” he said. “Ever since that year, we’ve always made a vocation to celebrate together with our friends and their families. And the same thing will be done this year.”

Life in BC was a stark difference to that in Pakistan, where his family, grandparents, along with the families of his father’s two brothers all lived under one roof. Gaya’s family home would be the gathering place during Eid for all relatives.

“In North America, what I have realized is that you have more association with friends, because not all your family members are there,” Gaya said.

This is Gaya’s first year celebrating Eid in-person with the Abbotsford Muslim community. He moved to the city two and a half years ago from Surrey but pandemic restrictions meant he wasn’t able to congregate with his fellow Muslims. That changed earlier this year, when gathering restrictions were lifted just in time for the first of the two Eid holidays. He was pleasantly surprised to learn how large the Muslim population was in Abbotsford.

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Now, as the second Eid festival approaches this weekend, the affair will be particularly special for Gaya as he reunites with his eldest daughter and his grandkids, who are visiting after having moved to Pakistan a few years ago.

EID

In Arabic, Eid (pronounced ee-d) loosely means celebration. There are two Eid holidays celebrated by Muslims.

Similar to many other religions, Muslims follow the lunar calendar.

The year’s first Eid holiday, Eid al-Fitr, took place in April. Eid al-Fitr begins the day after Ramadan and marks the end of the month-long dawn to sunset fasting. Muslims are very charitable during that time because fasting helps them feel empathy towards the poor, Gaya said.

The second festival, Eid al-Adha, begins on Saturday. The day will start with morning prayers followed by gathering with family and friends to exchange food and gifts.

The holiday marks the end of Hajj, which is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Eid al-Adha celebrates the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, Ismail, to signify his devotion to Allah (God). To reflect that faithfulness, Muslims sacrifice an animal in a practice called Qurbani (this is not always done directly).

Qurbani isn’t the same in Canada as what Gaya remembers from Pakistan. There, the sacrifice of the animal was done at home. In BC, Muslims visit a farm or a halal meat shop to place an order for fresh meat. The custom of acquiring the meat might be different but the tradition of sharing it with others persists, as does the underlying reason.

“That taking of the animal’s life is supposed to bring into you a sense of humanity… that God has blessed me with the resources, which so many other people in the community may not have, because not all Muslims all over the world do Qurbani, they don’t, they can’t afford it,” Gaya said.

Those who can afford to do it are expected to share.

“A third they will keep, a third they will give to friends and family, and the third will be given to a charity,” Gaya said.

In April, Gaya commemorated Eid at a Fraser Valley mosque for the first time .

“You find such a diverse community even at our mosque now in Abbotsford,” he said. “The Arabs are there, the Syrians are there, the Iraqis are there, the Egyptians are there… and when we come to pray, we all pray together.”

The Muslim community has outgrown the Abbotsford Islamic Centre since it first opened in 2009. They hope to eventually build a larger space. 📷 Tahir Khalid/ Abbotsford Islamic Centre

The Abbotsford Islamic Centre in central Abbotsford was founded in 2009 after an old church was put up for sale. Before that Muslims in Abbotsford would gather in small, temporary community spaces. As the local Muslim population grew, they began to out-grow those locations.

Data about religion was last recorded a decade ago when then the National Household Survey was released in 2011. At the time more than 1,700 people identified as Muslim in the Fraser Valley. Given the number of Syrian refugees who have moved to the region over the past decade, that number is likely to be much higher when the latest census data is released later this year.

The mosque is a member of the larger BC Muslim Association. In addition to providing prayer service the community is also involved in outreach work and partners with other local non-profit organizations.

“A good example of that is when the Syrian refugee families came in, we collaborated with Abbotsford Community Services now known as Archway Community Services,” Tahir Khalid, a board member of the Abbotsford Islamic Centre said. “We are always in close collaboration.”

Before the pandemic the mosque also offered Arabic classes. Those have since been put on pause, but Khalid said anyone from the public is always welcome to visit, to observe, ask questions, and learn more.

GAYA’S EID

This year is particularly special for Gaya because he is celebrating Eid with his eldest daughter and his three grandchildren who are visiting from Pakistan. After taking part in Eid prayers Saturday morning in Abbotsford Gaya and his wife will celebrate with family and friends.

There will be roughly 15 families coming together in Surrey from neighbouring communities for a potluck lunch. Gaya and his wife are tasked with bringing ice cream for dessert.

His hope for future celebrations is to organize an event in Abbotsford where anyone can come celebrate Eid.

The Muslim community has again outgrown the space at the Islamic centre and faces the challenge of accommodating visitors during larger celebrations like Eid. For Eid in April the mosque had scheduled three different morning prayers to accommodate everyone.

Khalid said the Islamic centre’s five year plan is to expand and build a larger space.

Signs of a growing community—and a growing celebration.


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Joti Grewal

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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