Eid Festival brings Muslims together in California

Eid Festival brings Muslims together in California
North America’s largest Eid Festival took place last weekend in California, seeing some 20,000 people come together to celebrate the Muslim holiday.
4 min read
13 July, 2016
The Eid Festival was celebrated by more than 20,000 Americans [The New Arab]
North America's largest Eid celebration brought thousands of Muslim families together in downtown Anaheim, California last weekend.

Anaheim city officials put the estimated number of attendees to the fourth-annual event at between 25,000 and 30,000.

Americans of all backgrounds and ages enjoyed live entertainment, shopping, art and delicious food from across the world during the two-day Eid Festival.

Anaheim - and Orange County at large - is home to one of the US' largest Arab-American populations. It has long mirrored Dearborn, Michigan with its large Arab and Muslim populations.

Home of Muslims

Southern California - which includes Los Angeles and Orange counties - is believed to be home to over half a million Muslims, but Belal Dalati, the event's founder and organiser, said attendees came from all over California state.

"We covered a large area," Dalati said. "You got Bakersfield [in the Central Valley], all the way down to Los Angeles, all the way down to Orange County, we had a lot of people come from San Diego."

He says the festival's mission of strengthening the "American-Muslim identity in our kid's hearts" was witnessed through the diversity at the festival.

"The diverse Muslim community came," he said. "From Pakistan, from India, from Afghanistan, [white] American Muslims, all over, so I'm really happy with the diversity."

Dalati estimated that 10 percent of the attendees were non-Muslim. A random survey at the event showed Muslims had roots in countries ranging from Syria to Cambodia, Eritrea to the Fiji islands.

Dalati's 17-member committee worked closely with the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, as well as mosques and local media to advertise the event. Social media, namely Facebook, was also instrumental in spreading the word.

The committee's marketer, Nahida Alkhairak, said outreach was directed at 100 mosques in the area.

"I reached out to six mosques and 45 stores," said Dalati, who is commissioner for the city of Anaheim. He said support from the mayor and city were also helpful and ongoing.

[Photo: The New Arab]

"Mayor Tom Tates chaired the first Eid Festival event," he said. "Disneyland was our first sponsor, because Disney is present in the city with the largest Muslim concentration."

Entertainment, shopping, food

Dalati and his committee have worked since January to put the festival together and ensure it appealed to all age groups.

The entertainment session begins with both the US national anthem and a recitation from the Quran.

Several local politicians spoke on stage at the opening including state assemblyman Tom Daly, who welcomed attendees. Abdulla Alsaboosi, consul general of the UAE, was also invited to speak.

Live entertainment took place in the afternoon, and began with a 10-minute children's parade.

Entertainment included a dabke show [Leventine folk dance], entertainer Bassem; Prymal Rhythm drumming, Abdullah nasheed and a live calligraphy show

Among the 100 booths were representatives from NGOs and advocacy groups - such as the Council on American Islamic Relation - while others sold honey, women's clothes and jewellery.

Janice Hayden and her husband sold Palestinian folk art and embroidery.

"This is my first year at the Eid Festival, and the customers have been interested in the subjects behind my products and understand the lives behind the people making them," she said.

"These products are all made by Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza or in the refugee camps in Lebanon."

Food at the event was also diverse with everything from shawarma to Mexican, Indian and Pakistani food, or American staples like pizza.

Sadly, there were a handful of demonstrators "denouncing" Islam outside the festival, but attendees were made sure to feel safe with the presence of security and two police officers onsite.

Festival chair Issa Edah-Tally said people were excited to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

"I've been getting lots of great feedback from people," he said. "You can tell just by looking at the smiles and happy faces from the young children and the parents and all the people that have come out." 

The festival's founder, Dalati, agreed about the importance of engaging the wider American community in the event and "inviting people to know us".

"The message is clear: there's no contradiction between being a good Muslim and good American."