My NYC neighborhood of Jackson Heights is home to a large Muslim population from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Since this weekend was Eid, the end of Ramadan, our local park (Travers) was turned over to a Muslim prayer service on Sunday morning. As I live near the park, I decided to walk over and draw what was happening. The park was FULL of men lining up on prayer rugs. It was a massive scene, in the middle of the area usually reserved for tennis and basketball, with the usual Sunday farmer’s market setting up on the park perimeters.
The prayer service was fairly short, and the Imam spoke in both English and Urdu, so I could understand some of what was going on.
As they were waiting for the service to begin, the Imam called out asking for donations for something (couldn’t catch what it was) and men went down the lines of men seated on blankets with a small bag for the cash. Then the Imam called out several times for all the men to stand, and line up. Lining up straight was a very important issue – the Imam waited, and when the men at the end of each line felt satisfied that their group was properly lined up, they raised their hand. Once all the hands went up, then the prayer service began.
There was a call and repeat (none of this was in English) and then a series of bowing, kneeling, standing up, bowing, kneeling, etc. And more prayers. The little boy in the foreground of the drawing above was having none of it. He resisted his father’s calls to join him on the prayer rug, and instead stood off to the side, covering his ears in protest every time the men called out in prayer. Too funny.
After more kneeling and bowing, then the men sat and listened while the Imam spoke to them. The little boys there with their fathers and grandfathers were the cutest, and they were very curious about what I was doing, sitting on the sidelines with my drawing pad.
The Imam spoke mostly in Urdu, but I understood one part where he told them (in English) that today was the day to enjoy good food, and enjoy their wives and families, and have gratitude. Essentially, it seemed that the men were giving thanks to Allah for the feast that they were about to have, marking the end of the Ramadan fasting period.
It was a very celebratory event, and after the prayers ended, the men wished each other “Eid Mubarak” (happy Eid) and hugged each other. The hugging went on for quite a while, men seemed to seek out their friends and relatives to specifically wish Eid Mubarak to and hug. It was a very sweet and sensitive gesture, and the happiness the men felt was palpable. After the hugging began to subside, the men left in groups with their wives and children to enjoy the holidays, everyone chatting and calling out to each other. But before they left the park entirely, they had to roll up all of the prayer rugs…
Another thing the Imam said to the men was to be sure to leave the park as it was before the service – and I have to say, they rolled those rugs up pretty fast! There seemed to be a core crew of guys who were in charge of this, and they made quick work of it.
A few men still mingled about as the rugs were loaded on to a pickup truck, to speak to the Imam, who was watching everything carefully, or give him a hug. “Eid Mubarak!”
One man and his father came up to me, and asked to see my drawings. As I explained what each drawing was to the younger man, he translated what I was saying to his father, who nodded. I asked the man about all of the hugging. Was it a specific tradition, or was it just a spontaneous feeling that made them hug each other after the service?
He told me that the men hugged each other in the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, who “hugged his men so they could feel each other, and celebrate brotherhood.” I told him that I loved that tradition, similar to the expression of peace by shaking hands or hugging at a specific time in the Catholic service.
“Muslim is a religion of peace,” he told me. “Many people don’t understand our religion…no religion wants killing or terrorism.” He paused, and touched his head: “But there are a lot of sick people out there.”
So much misunderstanding in the world. But for today, celebration, and I was happy to draw their happiness. As everyone walked off from the park, they mingled with their non-Muslim neighbors heading out to the Sunday morning farmer’s market. Different families, of different religions, all enjoying the day together. One of the many things I love about New York City.