Today our family was blessed to be able to join others for Arba’een (Read the history about the day here. And a current article here.) Although I am not a Muslim, I was welcomed into the community and I am grateful because I get to witness events that are very new to me. This is a time of the lunar calendar when Muslims pay their respects to Hussien, do anonymous good deeds and provide food to orphans and widows.
This particular evening, a basement was redesigned with large Arabic banners (this picture does not do the artistic detail justice!) and chairs, or cushions and pillows. This specific host was a female and so the evening was for women and children. A few women wore hajjabs (although this was not seen as necessary by all because there were no men in the setting) and everyone wore black clothing. The day is a time of mourning – thus the color black. On a large screen, videos played of an Imam speaking and later there were songs for children that explained the importance of the day in their religion. As many women arrived, they came with large containers of food and warm greetings for everyone. This is a custom that I have come to respect in the Arab community; when you enter a room, you greet every single person, one at a time. I feel like it displays honor, respect and models that each person is equally important and valued by the incomer. Incense spread through the rooms, candles were burning and sweets were out on platters as the children played with each other and the women shared stories and enchanting smiles. After about two hours of socialization, the food was presented and the guests were served: a few variations of rice dishes, keema (a delicious meat stew), liban (a sour yogurt drink that I will try very hard to respectfully decline because I just cannot find why people enjoy this drink!) and salad (I made this! You would think it would be easy for an America to make a salad – think again! Middle Eastern salads tend to be served with pieces diced very small. Though this is now my preferred style of salad.). After enjoying the meal, we received chai (hot tea with a few spices in it such as cardamom) and two desserts: zarda (a sweet rice dessert that can be creatively decorated with cinnamon) and harissa (this is actually made with wheat and meat, along with a few other ingredients – not what I’d personally consider a “dessert”). The evening eventually wrapped up, but not without every single woman having several foam containers of food to take home. This is a practice I admire so much in other cultures! I have seen it in Middle Eastern cultures and African cultures. It is common practice that enough food is brought to an event that attendees get to also take food home. This is such a great concept! As each woman left, she did a round of “mah salamah” (good-bye) and went on her way.
I feel extremely blessed that our family is invited to many events such as this. It may not always be in our comfort zone. It may include some food dishes that we cannot begin to figure out. But it also is sure to include tons of hospitality and the excitement of learning something new about another group of people. Each time the hosts thank us for coming, but in complete honesty, we are the ones who are humbly grateful that we were asked to partake in such a special gathering.
Have any questions about this evening, or others? Write your question in the comments section.
Ahmeli… that we will break out of our comfort zones and live a few hours (and hopefully even longer) among another culture. You never know what you will learn about others, about yourself and how a small event can completely change your life.
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