Bright colors and breezy fabrics of traditional tunics and trousers floated across the sidewalks of Navy Pier, which housed the first Eid Expo, bringing together diverse denominations and ethnicities Wednesday.
The two-day event celebrated Eid al-Fitr, a holiday that concludes Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. Thousands of Muslims from the Midwest attended the event to pray, mingle and eat halal food. Imam Zaid Shakir, who led Muhammad Ali‘s funeral prayers, led the Eid prayers.
Asma Ahad, director of market development for the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, one of the co-sponsors along with the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said 20 years ago, a community Eid was held at McCormick Place, but since then, people moved to the suburbs and attended Eid celebrations at their local mosques.
“Our vision was to bring the community together and also demonstrate our holiday to the broader community,” Ahad said.
While women gathered in the back half of the room and men gathered at the front, a singsong call to prayer in Arabic resonated in Festival Hall A. The concrete floor was padded with cardboard lined with black tape, and many people sat on the floor.
Shortly after 10 a.m., Shakir took the stage and led thousands of people in prayer. They raised their hands to their ears, followed by a bow at the waist before getting down on their knees and pressing their foreheads to the ground. The room was quiet save for Shakir’s voice.
Shakir spoke about what it means to be Muslim and how people like Ali, a former heavyweight boxing champion, are who people should think of instead of extremists.
As Shakir called for peace, mercy and charity, a little boy walked around with a red bag of Lindt chocolates and handed them to random people before smiling and walking away.
“Brothers and sisters, don’t hang your head and don’t hide your Islam, call people to the goodness of Islam,” Shakir said. “Call people to wholesome family values. Call people to sharing and charity. Call people to respectful neighborly peace. Call people to enjoin other people who are working for peace in this world, who are working for brotherhood and sisterhood in this world, who are trying to build bridges of understanding. This is what our religion calls us to.”
Shakir emphasized that those who had committed acts of terrorism and violence were not following the Quran’s teachings and were not strong in the true Islamic faith, improperly listening to teachings on the internet rather than imams who have received traditional training.
Farah Adil, 46, of Chicago, said while Shakir’s discussion of racism and extremism was important, it scared her children, and she said she wished his speech focused more on the positive aspects of the religion.
“I think it could have been less political,” Adil said. “There is such a lot of beauty in Islam. There is a such a lot of peace in Islam. … Just to hear all of that with the blowing up and the racism, I don’t know if I would have liked my children to hear all of that. I think as an adult, it’s OK for me to process, but it was very intense, like (my son) doesn’t want to be here now.”
Mohammed Barnawi, who lives in Hyde Park but is originally from Saudi Arabia, said the event was a good opportunity to gather with friends and family who traveled to celebrate Eid together and also to see other denominations.
“In my country, we have the same, here’s it’s multicultural,” Barnawi said.
Halal food vendors that meet the strictest standards of animal slaughter and preparation, like Bombay Wraps and the Halal Guys, were at the expo. Parents and children lined up for cotton candy, henna and bounce houses.
Adil, who was eating lunch with her family, said the experience was important for her children as it helps them understand their religion and shows that Muslims are “normal.”
“We love that when you come to a large community like this, you see the colors of Islam, people from every part of the world,” Adil said. “And for my children it was very important because there is so much negative portrayal in the media that something like this lets people know that the majority of the Muslims are peace loving. It’s very moving to be part of something like this.”