When Covid-19 threatened Sunday’s 2020 Eid celebration, the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition rallied to create a memorable yet safe family event.

Milwaukee’s Muslim community traditionally marks the end of Ramadan with a huge Eid al-Fitr prayer service that brings thousands of families together in a large venue. Following the prayer, families dressed in their finest Eid clothes unite with friends for lunches in restaurants, picnics in parks, trips to amusement parks or other gatherings.

This year the possibility of any community event on the Eid looked slim. Wisconsin had been under “Safer at Home” orders since March 25, barring public gatherings. Even when the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled the order unlawful on May 13, many believed large gatherings would contribute to the spread of coronavirus.

Ramadan had been clouded by a sense of isolation. No community iftars  meant no festive celebration at the end of each day of fasting. No mosques held evening community prayers and daily recitations of the Quran by imams suddenly became a virtual experience. Even the regular Friday jumaa prayers were stopped a month before Ramadan. Instead, families looked for ways to make the holy month special in the confines of their own homes.

Preparing for an Eid like no other

During an early April meeting of the MMWC board on Zoom, before the beginning of Ramadan, the 13 members discussed feeling sad for children who would be deprived of a joyful Eid celebration. “We were especially concerned for those fasting for the first time and those living here without family not being able to celebrate with the community,” said MMWC president Janan Najeeb.

So, the MMWC started brainstorming and came up with a plan for a safe Eid celebration. They would create a street festival with jugglers, magicians and stilt walkers. Families could drive through and enjoy the sights from the safety of their cars. And they could decorate their vehicles and dress in their Eid clothes to add to the spirit of the holiday.

The board first planned to hold the drive-through Eid festival around the MMWC’s home at the Islamic Resource Center, 5235 S. 27th Street. But once they started publicizing the event, they saw it “go viral.”

“We soon realized that many families would want to come out,” Najeeb said. The MMWC arranged with the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, 4707 S. 13th St., to use its large parking lot and the adjacent lot.

Then the MMWC got busy reserving entertainers, ordering goody bags, printing banners and decorative labels for goody bags and desert platters, advertising to the community and bringing in collaborators.

Collaborating organizations included the ISM, Hanan Refugee Relief Group who was already planning to drop off goodie bags and dessert platters for area refugee families, Aladdin’s, Damascus Gate and the Muslim American Society-Milwaukee Chapter. They contributed additional toys, goody bags, hotdogs and deserts that were packaged to be given to guests.

Volunteers created a festive spirit

There was a call for volunteers and an eagerness by many to be involved.  Hanan Refugee Relief brought in about half of the 65 volunteers who joined on Sunday during the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Drive-Thru Eid Celebration. Some came dressed in their best clothes, others in costumes like Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Some carried signs saying, “Eid Mubarek.” Others shook pom-poms and cheered the parade of cars, yelling “happy Eid” to all.

Omar Hamdan, 16, and his brother, Samer, 14, volunteered at the event with their mother Basema Yasin of Franklin, a MMWC employee who coordinates the MMWC’s “Our Peaceful Home” domestic violence prevention program. “This was one of my first major events as a volunteer,” said Omar. “My mom’s really into this volunteer work.”

“We saw the fliers that were sent out to the community saying they needed help,” said Yasin. “My kids are older but I still wanted them to be involved in the Eid celebration. And we wanted to help.

“It was jam-packed,” she added, “non-stop from 11 – 2. It was a huge success.”

Basma Daham of Franklin, a regular volunteer with the MMWC, helped prepare goody bags ahead of the event and was cheering participants on Sunday. “I have volunteered with the MMWC since it was established. I just love their mission, the way they work with different interfaith groups, and give us a voice in the community. They always show everyone what we are capable of.

“It is important for the children to have their own Eid experience,” she added. “This year we couldn’t come together face to face in a big celebration like we usually do, but we didn’t let Covid dampen our Eid. I want to thank the MMWC and everyone who helped put this together.”

Beyond expectations

“We had no clue what the weather would be,” Najeeb said. “Fortunately, it was an absolutely beautiful day.”

And the turn out?  Hundreds of cars lined up all the way back to 27th street. Volunteers counted about 300 cars pass through in the first hour. Then there was a constant flow of traffic for the next two hours.

The Fares family of Oak Creek, Jihad and Sinah, and their three children, ages 10, 7 and 3, arrived dressed up in their new Eid clothes. “We went all out this time, more than usual,” said Sinah. “After being in the house all of Ramadan, we wanted our children to feel the Eid.

“The event was beyond our expectations. It was definitely very nice and this kind of thing doesn’t happen everywhere.”

Dr. Mohammad Kher Heder, a neurologist from Brookfield, said, “If asked, I give it a 200%, especially the way the Muslim organizations all worked together under the leadership of the MMWC to accomplish the goal. That was the key to success. Everyone from the leaders to the volunteers worked sincerely to make it a special day for our children.” His four daughters (11, 9, 7 and almost 3) enjoyed everything from the horses and clowns to the Statue of Liberty and magician, to the treats and candy, he said. “And we adults felt very happy, too.”

Friends who hadn’t seen each other for more than two and a half months were honking their horns in greeting. “We all really felt we were celebrating the holiday together,” said Najeeb.

Maybe because the community was finally gathering, maybe because of the joint efforts of so many or the enthusiastic response of families—whatever the reason, “it was probably the best celebration any of us can remember,” she said. “Everyone was just thrilled to be out there.”