Detroit Muslims find peace in Ramadan celebrations

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Spiritual purification was Erica Ahmed’s central, challenging focus throughout Ramadan.

Five-year-old Hamza Hasham of Troy tries on a sherwani suit while shopping at the Eid Chand Raat Mela market festival in the Troy Marriott on Tuesday. The Kahkeshan Art Council event coincides with Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that ends the holy month of Ramadan.

For her and other Muslims across Metro Detroit, the holy month meant carefully rearranging their schedules to fast from dawn through dusk each day, pray, reflect and pursue charitable efforts.

But those 30 days also yielded other, unforeseen trials: deadly attacks in Orlando, Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq, Indonesia and elsewhere authorities have linked to religious extremism. In turn, those incidents affected perception of Islam as well as its followers around the world.

“It’s certainly a lot more challenging when you open up a newspaper or your Facebook feed and you’re seeing really outrageous, uninformed statements that are negative towards Islam or towards Muslims in America,” said Ahmed, a Birmingham mother of two who runs a car dealership. “That’s scary and it makes the overall fasting and the sacrifices more difficult.”

As many Muslims in the region on Wednesday start celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the typically joyous holiday that concludes Ramadan with feasts, gift-giving, and festivities, officials say the current events weigh on their minds but also reinforce the importance of community.

“The recent events in Turkey and Orlando and across the world — these are things that have people concerned. But I think people turn to prayer and to renew their faith at times like this,” said Muzammil Ahmed, board chairman for the Michigan Muslim Community Council. He is not related to Erica Ahmed.

“We hope that they’ll be re-energized to face whatever comes over the next years and work in a constructive manner to help guide their communities in the right direction.”

To mark the start of the period, the Kahkeshan Art Council organized an “Eid Chand Raat Mela” event Tuesday at the Detroit Marriott Troy. Children eyed toys while their parents browsed assorted vendors for richly embroidered outfits and jewelry.

The longstanding tradition is a lively finale to the month-long concentration on restraint, said Raza Mirza, the council president. “They give thanks to God that we have done our duty and finished fasts.”

Gratitude also informed the festivities for Emina Ferizovic of Hamtramck and her family. In a house featuring decorative napkins reading “Eid Mubarak” — a blessing — and multicolored lights shaped as a crescent moon, they savored stuffed pastries, baked beans with lamb, baklava and more.

Eid is “full of happiness and love. You can see it on everybody’s faces,” Ferizovic said during a break from baking. “It’s one day that we get to celebrate us, celebrate our religion, celebrate who we are.”

Ferizovic also revels in having joined friends to distribute some 400 boxes of food, an estimated 3,500 pounds of meat and canned goods to families in need across Wayne County. But she still ponders the most recent extremist conflicts that have left scores dead.

“It’s always on my mind. It weighs heavy on my heart,” said Ferizovic, who came to the United States from Bosnia in the 1990s. “But I try to keep that behind and put on a happy face so my family is enjoying.”

The current climate means this Eid “is a mixture of celebration and concern,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Michigan chapter. “The concern is that there has been an unprecedented amount of volatile extremist attacks during the month of Ramadan. ... There are people who are concerned about their family members abroad as a well as the attacks fueling anti-Muslim rhetoric from politicians.”

The concern about potential targeting of Muslims pushed the Dearborn-based American Human Rights Council to issue a public safety advisory, asking “the American Arab & Muslim community at large, the mosques and worship places to practice extra caution during the Eid services, prayers and gatherings. The unfortunate increase of anti-Muslim rhetoric and the few reported incidents targeting Muslims are alarming and mandate such precautionary safety measures.”

Meanwhile, about a dozen members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Metro Detroit chapter, many wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the American flag, marched in the Clawson Independence Day parade, representative Mahir Osman said. Displaying their patriotism, some unfurled a banner bearing a quote from the Prophet Muhammad: “Love of one’s country of residence is part of faith.”

“We have to be those peaceful, loving Muslims that we are going to continue to be and we will do our best to promote as much peace in this world as possible,” Osman said.

Bella Malik, left, of Sterling Heights shops at one of the booths at the Eid Chand Raat Mela market festival in the Troy Marriott.

Another chance to impact lives arrived with Muslims fulfilling a tenet of their faith during Ramadan: charity.

Each year, the Michigan Muslim Community Council heads the Ramadan Fight Against Hunger campaign to collect food for people in need across the region. In 2016, they distributed more than 40 tons of items and also started a LaunchGood campaign, garnering nearly $13,000 in donations to purchase gift packages for local foster and refugee children. “You’re putting your faith into action,” said Sumaiya Ahmed, communications director at the MMCC.

Some sought another, more personal approach to connecting with others. Erica Ahmed and her husband, Syed, are inviting the community to a kid-friendly party Wednesday for their young daughters, Sofia and Layla, complete with a “bounce-house,” face-painting, henna and chicken shawarma.

Hoping to improve perceptions of Muslims, the couple also often coordinate “iftars,” or breaking-of-the fast dinners, at their home on Sunday nights during Ramadan. At the last one, an estimated 45 attendees — including Jews, Christians, and those identifying as atheist — dined on lamb, mango coconut rice and corn salsa salad, Ahmed said.

“It was a really beautiful moment. In those moments, you’re like, ‘OK, there’s peace in all of this.’ It just felt good, that maybe in some higher way we’re having an impact and we’re making a difference.”