Inside the Collection

Ramadan, Eid prayers and the Museum

Eid prayers at Lakemba Mosque, 2011
Eid prayers at Lakemba Mosque, 2011. Photography © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved.

From the end of this week until August 19 is Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. During this time, Muslims fast everyday from dawn to sunset with the purpose of cleansing their mind and body, practicing self-discipline and re-focusing their worshop on god. At the end of Ramadan, a large celebration takes place called Eid ul-Fitr, or simply Eid. Family and friends dress up in their most beautiful clothes to celebrate in prayer and good company. As reflected in the Faith, fashion, fusion exhibition, designers release new collections specifically for this occasion. “Ramadan is our busiest month”, says Hanadi Chehab and Howayda Moussa of Integrity Boutique. “People buy a new outfit for everyday of Eid [it goes for 3 days]…and we start designing for it months in advance”.

A few staff from the Powerhouse Museum attended the first day of Eid ul-Fitr at Lakemba mosque in 2011. We captured some beautiful moments of the prayers and festivities, as reflected in the photograph above. To shed some more light on the significance of Ramadan and Eid to Muslims, we asked Muhummed Shah Idil, 25, a local resident of Lakemba and an economist at the Reserve Bank of Australia to share with us some of his personal experiences. Muhummed, of Malay background, migrated from Singapore to Australia with his family in 1996 and has lived in Sydney ever since. He is a very active member of Sydney’s Muslim community. He volunteers for several organisations including Mission of Hope and Al-Ghazzali centre and he is a co-founder of the newly launched online youth platform, Youthink Magazine.

This photograph was taken during Eid prayer in front of Imam Ali bin Abi Taleb Mosque, more commonly known as Lakemba mosque.

Having lived in Lakemba for more than a decade, attending prayers at Lakemba mosque has always been a relatively uneventful part of my childhood: the single minaret that breaks through the suburb’s horizon; the familiar sight of its ageing facade as you walk through the front gates; and the constant struggle to find a spare slot on the shoe rack to file away whatever footwear you’d be wearing at the time (shoes aren’t worn inside mosques).

Things are a bit different come Eid though, and anyone who’s been to Lakemba mosque during the occasion will no doubt agree. Eid is a day of celebration – it occurs twice a year, first after the Islamic month of Ramadan, and second later in the year to commemorate the completion of the Hajj pilgrimage. Hundreds, if not thousands, gather at their local mosques to begin the day with a communal prayer. Regardless of how many times I’ve made my way to Lakemba mosque on the morning of Eid, I am always moved by the show of unity and humility of those around me. People from all walks of life stand side-by-side as the lines of nationality, class and age are set aside by the unifying act of prayer, and the recognition that we are all celebrating Eid for much the same reason. The relative calm of the Eid prayer is quickly replaced by scenes of festivity and celebration – women, men and children are seen waving, hugging and kissing, along with all other manner of emphatic greetings. You’d be hard-pressed to find another situation where the joy of being part of such a close-knit community can be seen so clearly in the smiles and laughter of those around you.

One of my most memorable moments related to Eid happened the year before last. Shortly after the Eid prayer, I was taken by surprise and embraced by an elderly man next to me (a complete stranger, by the way). Despite me being in a state of complete shock, he smiled and parted with a few kind words, which, from the little I understood of Arabic, included a prayer for my health. While he may not have put much thought into this, his gesture struck me as an act of connection based on commonality rather than a decision to highlight our differences. It’s moments like these that make me truly appreciate the value of focusing on similarities and finding common ground – something that is often forgotten in our world today.

It’s fitting that I end this piece with the parting words of the friendly stranger(which I managed to translate after much effort). Kullu’am wa antum bikhair, or best wishes in the years to come! The month of Ramadan will start in mid July, and the next Eid will be in mid August. If you’re ever near Lakemba mosque, or any other mosque, and it happens to be the morning of Eid, drop by and you’ll get a chance to taste the Eid experience!

Written by Muhummed Shah Idil.

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