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Fawzia Gilani-Williams, PhD

Author, International Educator, Storyteller

The following article written in 2007 has been reproduced with permission from School Library Journal © Copyright Library Journals, LLC

a wholly owned subsidiary of MSI Information Services

Say the Word Again? Eid | Up for Discussion

by Fawzia Gilani-Williams
Dec 01, 2007 | Filed in News & Features

An author and teacher strives to raise awareness about the Islamic holidays

When I visit public libraries and peruse resources on children’s holiday literature, I am always confronted with a glaring absence. The two major celebrations in the Muslim world, Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha (see explanation boxes), seem remarkably obscure in American libraries. If I am fortunate, I may find one or two nonfiction titles addressing the topic. While informational books on the Islamic holidays are few, fictional tales are even more scarce. Not surprisingly, very few teachers and librarians are familiar with them. When I recently asked a group of children librarians if they had ever heard of Eid, there was silence. “Say the word again?” said one librarian. Even my computer’s spell-check, which recognizes holidays like Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa, underlines Eid in red–highlighting it as a mistake.

Noted author and advocate for Australian literature Miles Franklin is frequently quoted as saying, “Without an indigenous literature, people can remain alien in their own soil.” I believe this is true for seven million Muslim Americans of Arab, Asian, European, and African extraction. By leaving out some children’s heritage while others are visible presents youngsters with an image of being undervalued or unimportant. Part of self-esteem and self-confidence is knowing where you fit into the world. Twenty years ago in an essay in Betty Bacon’s How Much Truth Do We Tell the Children? (MEP Publications, 1988), Harue Palomino asked the question, “What are today’s Japanese American children and young people finding …in public libraries and schools about themselves?” A similar question needs to be asked about today’s Muslim American children.

Consider Deborah Chancellor’s Holiday! Celebration Days Around the World (Dorling Kindersley, 2002). The index lists holidays including the Chinese New Year, Christmas, Diwali, Easter, Hanukkah, Holi, and Kwanzaa. But where are Ramadan and Eid? A Muslim child might ask why are they missing? This absence is not only felt in the world of books. It is also felt in the world at large as Aymen Fadel of the Fadel Educational Foundation remarked: “I was at the airport and it was winter. There were reminders of Christmas and Hanukkah. It was also Eid, yet I saw no evidence of Eid. It was as if Muslims didn’t exist.”

Ramadan is not considered a celebration but a religious observance akin to Lent. It is a time of hunger, thirst, sacrifice and hardship. During Ramadan, practicing Muslims do not have parties, sing songs, exchange gifts or play games.

In Deborah Heiligman’s “Holidays Around the World,” series (National Geographic), one of the titles is Celebrate Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr with Praying, Fasting and Charity (2006). The cover depicts a subdued Muslim boy sitting alone and reading Qur’an. Strangely the editors decided to incorporate Ramadan rather than Eid-ul-Adha, which surprizingly was completely ignored. More puzzling, the cover title suggests that Muslims celebrate by “praying”, “fasting” and giving “charity” when the reality is that they are just as festive as other people. What does this image project about Muslims? I asked some children in an Islamic school about their impressions. “It will make people think that Muslims don’t know how to celebrate,” replied one child.

For the past four years I have been writing Eid stories for children. The main objective of the Eid Stories Project is to create fictional tales that may serve as resources for schools and libraries. I have had more than 20 books published in England, India, and Malaysia, most of which are available here.

During an interview with a local reporter that focused on the stories, I remarked that my local public library probably had the largest collection of Eid stories in North America. The reporter agreed and added “perhaps, but with the exception of the Library of Congress.” I nodded quickly wanting to cover my impetuous claim. However, I later contacted the Library of Congress and I was informed by the Head of the Children’s Department that they did not have any titles on Eid. This surprising news led me to contact the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the National Library of New Zealand, Canada, and Australia and the State Library of Tasmania. The data I collected showed that although there were a handful of nonfiction books on Eid, there were virtually no fiction books.

I decided to ask the national libraries to send me a list of the books they had on Eid. Using this information, a bibliography on Children’s Eid Literature was compiled with the supervision of Monica McMillan, Head of Adult and Teen Services also of Oberlin Public Library (OH). The task was quite simple because there were so few books. It can be found on the Ohio Library Council’s Diversity Awareness and Resources and Committee webpage at

In a recent email I asked Roderick McGillis, Professor of English at the University of Calgary and internationally recognized for his work in children’s literature, about the value of fictional tales about Eid. His response was: “It is important for the following reasons: children need stories about everything; Muslim children need to have stories about their own culture and religion (especially in countries like ours) in order to give them confidence. Non-Muslim children need to know about cultures other than their own. Why story and not just informational books? Well because story puts a human face on human activity. The reader can enter a world that is either familiar or unfamiliar, and in either case this is useful. Stories explain things in action; stories are concrete rather than abstract.”

The books I have written are all fictional and are a composite of my British schooling and Indian subcontinent heritage, coupled with my teaching experiences in the United States. For instance, Eid Kareem Ameer Saab! (2003) is a story based on Charles Dickens’s famous character Scrooge. Aminah and Aisha’s Eid Gifts (2004) was inspired by the kindness of Nissa Ahmed of Minnesota. Celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr with Ama Fatima (2004, Goodword) was my Eid gift to my child. I read her the story I had written that morning. In it I transported her to England where she celebrated a wonderful Eid with family and friends. The Jilbab Maker’s Eid Gift (A. S. Noordeen, 2007) is probably my favorite story. It tells of a selfish queen who eventually discovers the gift of giving. My latest offerings include The Lost Ring (2007), Husna and the Eid Party (2007, both Islamic Foundation) and, soon to be available, Ismat’s Eid (Tulika).

Eid stories written by other authors include Asma Mobin-Uddin’s The Best Eid Ever (Boyds Mills, 2007–reviewed on p. 96), Nasreen Akhtar’s Samira’s Eid (Mantralingua, 2000), Kareena Merchant’s A Present for Salima (Hodder Wayland, 2002), and Farjana Khan’s Yippee! Ramadan is Over, It’s Eid (Author House, 2005). It seems that English-language Eid fiction is limited to this very small selection. However it is encouraging to see a book like Christina Minaki’s Zoe’s Extraordinary Holiday Adventure (Second Story Pr., 2007), which is an enchanting story of a wheelchair-bound girl in which Eid gets mentioned along with Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Diwali.

I believe it is an important step towards making America a culturally vibrant nation when resources on Eid are made available to educators and librarians. There was a time when Hanukkah was hidden and obscure. I hope that soon Eid, too, will become familiar.


Eid-ul-Fitr, literally the Festival or Holiday of Fast Breaking lasts for three days. Children dress in their best clothes. The day begins with congregational prayer. A great variety of delicious foods are prepared for guests. Communities of Indo-Pak heritage present their children with “Eidi” which are money gifts similar to Hanukah money in Jewish-European communities. Children in Turkey go door to door collecting candy.

The greatest night of the whole year falls within Ramadan—Layla-tul-Qadr—the Night of Power. During this night Muslims remain awake until dawn and perform acts of worship and charitable deeds. The Angel Gabriel descends from Paradise along with a huge host of angels. Any act of goodness performed in this night is rewarded to the degree that it was done for a thousand months. This year Eid-ul-Fitr was celebrated on Saturday 13th, October 2007.

Eid-ul-Adha, which means Festival of Sacrifice, commemorates the time when Prophet Abraham was about to sacrifice his son. God replaced the boy with a ram and hence Muslims on the day of Eid sacrifice a sheep, goat, or cow. At Thanksgiving, people are invited to share the meal whereas on the day of Eid, the meat of the animal (usually lamb) is divided into three parts. One portion is for the poor, one for relatives, and the third for the family. This Eid also known as the Big Eid, falls on the last day of Hajj. Pilgrimage to Mecca is based on the idea of visiting the Kabah. A simple cube-shaped structure, said to be the first house on Earth dedicated to the exclusive worship of God. During this Eid, which lasts for fours days, Muslims meet for congregational prayer and visit family and friends. More established communities organize fun events for families. In 2007, Eid-ul-Adha will be celebrated around December 20th.