"All great religions encourage their followers to love their neighbors," Evergreen Park resident Samina Sundas said of the teaching most often expressed during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. But "to love our neighbors, we must know our neighbors," she added.
This holiday season, Sundas is inviting her neighbors and any Palo Altan who would like to join in a celebration to make good on that idea. On Dec. 12, Sundas will host the Eid Festival, the Muslim celebration of spreading happiness and love all around, at Lucie Stern Community Center ballroom.
The festival will include a free gourmet Pakistani dinner, desserts from around the world, ethnic dress, henna art painting, Nasheed spiritual singing and a photo booth where people can have their picture taken dressed in ethnic attire.
American Muslim Voice Foundation, of which Sundas is the founding executive director, is sponsoring the festival. The City of Palo Alto is a co-sponsor through a $1,000 Know Your Neighbors grant.
Sundas said she hopes the festival will attract 200 people. She has sought to build a community culture of hope, inclusion and peace since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Each year she has held interfaith and intercultural dinners at her home, as well as workshops and events she calls "peace picnics."
Her goal, she said, is "to move people from fear to friendship."
The Eid festival (pronounced EEd) is a chance for people to experience Islamic culture, Sundas said. Formally called Eid ul-Fitr, the celebration takes place after Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, prayer and introspection. At the end of Ramadan and before the Eid celebration begins, Muslims pay a small amount to charity, called Zakat-ul-Fitr, as a token of thankfulness to God for helping observe fasts and for purification from indecent acts or speech.
"People are required to give a special charitable donation to people who can't afford nice things, such as clothing and shopping money," she said. "Before you go to the mosque, you eat something, then go and pray. Then you hug each other three times and say, 'Happy Eid,'" she said. Celebrants return home to share food and exchange gifts and sweets for three days.
Although Eid does not traditionally fall around Christmas and Hanukkah -- in 2014 it began on July 28 -- Sundas hopes that introducing the celebration around the Christian and Jewish holidays will help people to see that Muslims also practice loving their neighbors.
At a time when extremists are spreading terror and hate, building that kind of understanding has become even more important to Sundas.
"Since 9/11, everyone thinks that Muslims are terrorists or are oppressed in hijabs," Sundas said, referring to the veil covering a woman's head and chest. But the Eid festival provides an opportunity to dispel such misinformation and the suspicion it brings.
In an online message to the community on American Muslim Voice's website, Sundas reflected on the healing power of understanding.
An "inclusive and beloved community ... transcends race, religion, ethnicity, or any other characteristic which may be used to divide us. We can achieve our dream of a peaceful world simply by getting to know each other. Ignorance breeds fear; knowledge and social contact will erase these unfounded fears against us," Sundas wrote.
And a network of support, "a chorus of peace in solidarity with a promise to stand by one another -- (is) the very definition of community," she added.
If You Go
What: Eid Festival
Where: Lucie Stern Community Center ballroom, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
When: Friday, Dec. 12, 7-9:30 p.m.
Cost: Free, but RSVP is requested by emailing email@example.com or registering here. In the sweets-giving tradition of Eid, everyone is welcome to bring a dessert to share.
Info: Go to amuslimvoice.org