Sacrifice and Celebration: Native American Muslims on Ramadan and Eid

Are Muslims aware of the Indigenous community and the need to share?

By Karim Hakim

March/April 2023

Every year many people enjoy learning about the different Ramadan practices and Eid celebrations of Muslims throughout the world. So many Muslims from different countries, backgrounds and cultures exemplify the umma’s diversity through their unique celebrations and routines. Native American/Indigenous Muslims represent an integral part of the North American umma with their own remarkable Ramadan and Eid experiences. Let’s take a look at various accounts from Indigenous people who have immigrated into Islam.

First, it’s important to point out that many of them are reverts or converts. While Native Americans can live both on and off of their sovereign Native lands (reservations), the vast majority of them live in cities or towns because their lands don’t have large Muslim populations or mosques. This, in turn, means that a lot of Native Muslims experience and practice Ramadan and Eid in a local mosque with local Muslim populations. In fact, every Ramadan you may have been praying beside and/or sharing a communal iftar with an Indigenous Muslim and been unaware of it. 

Just like every other distinct ethnic community, they have their own special experiences with Ramadan. Leslie Henderson Oaxaca of California describes it beautifully, “Ramadan is a very spiritual time of the year, and I feel like I’m able to tap into a very deep spiritual part of myself because of my roots. It’s something that I was taught to really work on and grow even before becoming Muslim. Every Ramadan is different, because I’m in a different space every year.”

From suhoor routines to iftar traditions, there are a lot of beautiful experiences to share. One Muslim family of Yacqui descent living in the Greater Los Angeles area shared its unique take on Ramadan mornings, iftar gatherings and the beauty of the month itself:

“When I first began doing this, our morning suhoor was a very long process. We actually made it more difficult than other Muslims we knew from different backgrounds. But it gave us discipline and also made it memorable for us. We would spend one or two hours very early in the morning to prepare ourselves, be well cleaned and dressed and then began preparing a variety of foods to enjoy. Then we would have a nice meal and pray Fajr together. Everyone would get certain dishes they wanted, and the house would be lit up and bright as if it was the middle of the day during a vacation or something.

“We make sure to have special iftar gatherings regularly. We invite friends whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim and open our home. We make sure to serve food that is not the type you would get at a masjid iftar. And we give them gifts. I know people like to save gifts for Eid, but to us the month of Ramadan is a gift itself, and giving gifts inside of the month brings more blessings. Many of us do not have family iftar parties to go to, so it is important to make these moments every year special for ourselves.”

Jamilla Southwind, a Keeseekoose Tribal member, describes how her iftars are special and maintain their traditions as a Native Muslim household: 

“We put a big cover or sufra on the ground so we can all sit there and eat. I also make sure we eat with our hands. It is also a Sunnah. We have Native dishes such as bannok bread [a variety of flat quick bread] and a lot of soups. We use wild meat only. No elaborate dishes. We had two other Native Muslim sisters join us and their families as well, and they joined us in eating on the floor and with their hands traditionally. Everyone loves it.” 

Abdul-Hakeem, who is from an Apache-Chiricahua background, gave his reflection on the month of Ramadan itself:

“Nature is a major part of who we are. And Allah the Creator has made nature a direct sign of Ramadan. We cannot start or end it without the moon He created. We reflect on this more and more in the month of Ramadan. Every morning we get to look outside and recognize if our fast has started or not. Many people use apps or prayer calendars, but we take the time to use the big calendar our Creator put in the sky. This is a gift we can enjoy every day, but the most in Ramadan.”

Eid Celebrations

In the case of Eid celebrations, various Indigenous Muslims seemed to have similar experiences but different approaches. All of them mentioned potentially being left out of many community activities or not receiving many Eid party invitations from the community’s families. As a result, some decided to create their own Eid celebrations and traditions or adopted traditions from local Muslims families.

Abdullah of the Navajo Nation, originally from Nevada, describes how being “adopted” by a local Muslim family has played a major role in his Ramadan and Eid experiences: 

“My Ramadans have primarily been with the Gujarati [South Indian] family, al hamdu lillah, that took me in when I became Muslim. My experiences were more oriented around them and their traditions, like Eid milk in the mornings and samosas! I feel like the feeling of Ramadan and Eid is more fulfilling than previous experiences I’ve had with other holidays. It feels like you’ve worked towards something and achieved something in the end, al hamdu lillah.”

He also gives helpful insight on the challenges some Indigenous Muslims experience in the community during Ramadan and Eid and how to address them successfully:

“My experiences have been mostly good. There is an isolation part when you’re not the primary ethnicity of the masjid, you know, Desi [South Asian] or Arab. Sometimes you get the salaams here and there, but sometimes it’s just sitting over in the corner while everyone’s having fun speaking their languages and stuff and you’re trying to figure out how to fit in. But al hamdu lillah, usually at some point it’s about finding the right people who help bring you into the circle. And it’s just breaking that barrier [down] and then from there the more people see you around, the more people become comfortable with engaging with you, in sha’ Allah.”

Other Native Muslims detailed how they have carved out their own Eid moments and traditions from their own cultures. Abdul Hakeem mentioned their joyous Eid celebrations and how it was shaped by their background: 

“Growing up we had different practices and would sometimes be a part of non-Muslim celebrations. Those would usually be fun, but we didn’t feel any spiritual connection or growth. After we only joined in Islamic holidays, we realized Islam wasn’t about missing out on fun. Islam encourages fun along with our spiritual growth, and especially on Eids. For years now we do Eid our way. Our way is to make sure there is singing, sometimes dancing and bright clothing. We prepare ahead of time by trying to figure out what our loved ones need and then buying and hiding these gifts until Eid. Sometimes we prepare for months. We do not believe in extravagance as a people. But we love thoughtfulness and creativity. We also usually have at least a few gifts that are homemade, such as art. This connects our hearts more and more each Eid.”

The Yacqui family makes sure their celebrations reflect both their culture and their faith:

“We have Native heritage from Mexico, and a lot of our celebrations reflect that. I even got an Eid outfit in Mexico before. When our family has parties, it is important for our kids and young friends to enjoy and love Islamic celebrations and to also know who we are. So, we will play games, dress up, perform skits and break piñatas. You got to have piñatas!”

Jewel Khloud, a young First Nations descendant, shared some of her favorite Eid moments: “It is the best time in the world. We make sure to have a lot of presents, and we meet all different kinds of Muslims. We have a lot of fun outdoors sharing food and riding ponies, and even our Aunties join the fun like having one-legged foot races.” 

Karim Hakim, a Los Angeles native, has contributed to Muslim Vibe, OnEarth Magazine, SalaamCal, The Highlander, Fight! Magazine and more. In addition to being Southern California’s Helping Hand for Relief and Development representative, he is co-founder of Bros and Arrows and a performer of #SpokenFlows.

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