For the first time since the onset of the COVID pandemic, Muslims from across the Ottawa area gathered at the EY Centre on Monday to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of the month of Ramadan.
The day-long celebration, hosted by the Ottawa Muslim Association (MAC), featured prayers, games, shows, food, bazaars and exhibitions. Dubbed the city’s largest Eid gathering, the event returned in 2022 after a two-year hiatus, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attending during the morning, alongside other federal politicians like Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra and Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier.
“We get together with the family, with community, we celebrate together,” said Tarek Houssari, a member of MAC’s organizing committee. “We eat a lot of food, it’s a moment for us to rejoice the month and to spend time with family.”
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast during the day, hold prayers and commit acts of charity and self-improvement. On Eid, Muslims attend special prayers in the morning and visit family and friends.
MAC, a religious organization that supports schools, youth programs and charities across the country, has 13 chapters in Canada, each of which is hosting an event this Eid.
Last year, the organization’s events attracted a total of 80,000 attendees.
At the Baitun Naseer Mosque in Cumberland, around 300 to 400 people listened to Imam Luqman Ahmed’s morning sermon then socialized after with tea and sweets.
“Most in the community knows each other and grew up together,” Ahmed said. “When we are together it becomes a happy occasion, and the weather was nice, so the children played outside.”
Eid al-Fitr is a time to celebrate values of humanity, family and to come together as a community, he explained.
“There’s a great universality message that Ramadan and Islam offer,” said Houssari. “We feel that they’re very consistent across our community and across Canadians at large.”
“One of the most important things we believe is in fulfilling the rights of each other. Some people miss the peaceful nature of our religion, today is about celebrating harmony with God, but also with each other.”
Raghad Issa is a tutor from the Heron and Walkley area of Ottawa. She stood among the celebrants at the EY Centre, handing out flyers and chocolate.
“Eid marks the beginning of a new time. There is a big feast at your family house, it’s like our Christmas,” she said. “It’s amazing to reconnect with people.”
After two years of separation during the pandemic, Issa said this moment is a special one to the Muslim community across the country.
“It feels very good, a lot of people are using it as an opportunity to travel overseas and see family. That’s what my two brothers are doing right now,” she said.
MAC says that Eid celebrations are designed to bring together Muslims from all different socio-economic, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. The holiday also represents a moment for all Canadians to learn about Islamic culture.
To Houssari, learning about his community should be easy for everyone.
“If you’re interested, you should ask your neighbour, don’t be shy,” he said. He encourages everyone to engage with Islamic people in their communities. “Go see your neighbour, ask them what it all means. Even coming out, everyone’s more than welcome to come out to Eid. We have lots of activities for the kids, we have lots of ethnic food, lots of things for everyone to enjoy.”
Inside the EY Centre, thousands of people milled around, shaking hands, sharing meals and watching the “Eid Candy Party.” The parking lot had long lines of cars, attendees stood among them, guiding drivers to open spaces. During the celebration, children played with balloons, their parents browsed vendor stalls and listened to advocates speak about humanitarian issues.
High-school student Ali Khelal said Muslims in Ottawa are very close-knit.
“It’s great to be with family,” said Khelal. “It makes you feel closer.”