Photo by Kamal Moon

As Palestinians in Gaza suffer relentless bombing and starvation, Milwaukee’s Muslim community opts for subdued Ramadan and Eid celebrations, beginning with the cancellation in March of Eat Halal Milwaukee’s Suhoor Food Truck Festival.

Milwaukee usually celebrates Eid al-Fitr, one of two major holidays on the Islamic calendar, with a large community prayer service followed by feasting and a festival for families to enjoy.

This year will be different.

The Islamic Society of Milwaukee is expected to announce the cancellation of Eidfest out of respect for the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, ISM president Salah Sarsour told the Wisconsin Muslim Journal early this week. 

“On the day of the Eid, we want to show the people in Gaza that we stand with them,” Sarsour said. “We want to show respect for the people we lost.”

Milwaukee Muslim community’s annual Eid al-Fitr festival “is one of the best things our community has done,” he added. “Every year thousands of community members come to enjoy rides and food vendors. Families find it a safe and happy place to celebrate Eid together.

“This year we asked people in the community from different groups what we should do in light of Gaza, where what is happening now is the worst that has happened anywhere in the world for decades. The feedback was that this is not the time to host a festival. No priority is more important than stopping the war in Gaza and serving the Palestinians there.”

Photo by Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images

Refugees International, a charity organization that investigates challenges displaced people face, found and reported in March that “Israel has consistently and groundlessly impeded aid operations in Gaza.”

Suffering in Gaza

About 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Oct. 8, the start of Israel’s War on Gaza, according to official counts from Gaza’s Ministry of Health, and food aid is being blocked to a population facing imminent starvation, AP reports. 

Yet the actual death toll is much more, NPR reports, because “thousands remain unaccounted for — either missing under the rubble, buried hastily in side streets or decomposing in areas that can’t be safely reached.”

Several local families mourn the deaths of loved ones killed in Gaza since Oct. 7. Mohammad Hamad of Brookfield’s sister died in October in an Israeli airstrike on a market in a Palestinian refugee camp. He has since learned several other close relatives have been killed. The Sakalla family of Franklin lost more than 50 family members in October to one Israeli bombing. Mhammad Abu Shawish of Milwaukee has lost cousins and probably many others from his large extended family in Gaza since Oct. 7. 

Eat Halal Milwaukee led with first solidarity cancellation

On March 10, Eat Halal Milwaukee announced it would cancel the annual Suhoor Food Truck Festival, when dozens of vendors in the ISM parking lot offered a pre-dawn breakfast to Muslims fasting in Ramadan.

Eat Halal Milwaukee is a grassroots organization that encourages restaurants to serve halal cuisine to accommodate Greater Milwaukee’s growing Muslim community.

On its social media, it posted: 

“We write to you today with a heavy heart to announce the cancellation of this year’s Suhoor Food Truck Festival. This decision was made jointly by the Islamic Society of Milwaukee and ourselves as we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, particularly the 2.3 million individuals suffering in Gaza under the inhumane conditions imposed by Israel.

“From the outset of our planning, we were cognizant of the crisis in Gaza. All profits from this event, including contributions from our Goals for Gaza and Hoops for Hope were intended to support the children of Gaza. In light of these circumstances though, it does not feel appropriate to proceed with the festival at this time. We believe that holding such an event at a time when our brothers and sisters are suffering from feminine would divert attention from the urgent need to address the atrocities being committed against the Palestinian people.”

Wrapping up Ramadan

ISM will hold its Khatm (Quran completion) program this evening. Muslims strive to read the entire Quran throughout the month of Ramadan. In Greater Milwaukee, they have the opportunity to do this in community with other Muslims through the ISM.

ISM will also host an iftar, a breaking of the fast, for reverts (the Muslim word for converts that means they returned to the faith) and their families, at the ISM Community Center, 815 W. Layton Ave., Milwaukee. Community members are encouraged to attend and are welcome to bring a dessert. (Reverts do not bring anything since they are the guests of honor, the announcement states.) For any questions, please contact Sheikh Ziad (414) 405-2564, Wessal (414) 573-1996 or Sawsan (414-416-1800).

The Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition hosted its Annual Revert Iftar yesterday.

Celebrating Eid 2024

The festival is cancelled; the Eid is not, Milwaukee Muslim community leaders said. 

The holiday marks the completion of Ramadan, a month of fasting that is one of the five pillars of Islam. It marks Muslims’ hard work and patience throughout the month, and the spiritual growth and self-control achieved. More important, it celebrates the opportunity of Ramadan, when good deeds are multiplied and sins are forgiven. The Eid is a day to praise God.

Photo by Lee Matz

ISM imam Ameer Hamza led Eid prayer at a 2023 service at the Wisconsin (now the Baird) Center in Milwaukee.

ISM will hold 7:30 a.m. prayer services at all three of its mosques: ISM main, 4707 S. 13th St., Milwaukee; ISM Brookfield, 16670 Pheasant Dr., Brookfield: and ISM University Center, 2223 E. Kenwood Blvd., Milwaukee.

The community-wide Eid prayer will take place at 10:30 a.m. at the Baird Center (formerly the Wisconsin Center), 400 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. It is usually attended by 5,000 – 6,000 people.

“We are considering various things we may be able to do at the prayer service to express our solidarity with the people of Gaza,” ISM Director Othman Atta said. 

Muslim families traditionally wear new clothes on the Eid al-Fitr, the celebration at the end of the month-long Ramadan fast.

“Following a historical day, we want to consider how we can send the Biden administration the message on the Eid that we need a ceasefire now,” Sarsour said. He was referring to the success of Listen to Wisconsin’s “Wisconsin Vote Uninstructed” campaign, which more than doubled its goal Tuesday of securing 20,000 ‘Uninstructed’ votes (it won more than 47,000 votes) to send a message to the Biden administration that U.S. military support of Israel as it massacres Palestinian civilians in Gaza is not acceptable.”