Gathering Again

The Gift of Seattle’s Eid Celebrations

This week brings joyous festivities and reminders of hard-fought new beginnings for refugees across the region.

By Taylor McKenzie Gerlach May 2, 2022

A full decade has passed since Mahmoud Batikh and his wife, Nahed, properly celebrated Eid al-Fitr, or even celebrated at all. In 2012, the couple left their hometown in Syria with two children in tow. They eventually fled the country mired in an ongoing civil war for Turkey. But they couldn’t find stability as they sought refuge in the U.S. Mahmoud, who’d left behind a communications career in Syria, experienced pervasive racism and anti-refugee prejudice in both the job market and daily life.

Six months ago, their journey to the U.S. finally came to an end when their plane touched down at Sea-Tac, a common landing spot of late for those seeking safe havens. Over the past decade, Washington has welcomed more than 30,000 refugees from 70 countries, including Afghans, Somalis, Syrians, and Ukrainians. When Mahmoud heard the news that his family could come to Seattle, the immense happiness he felt “couldn’t fit inside” him, he said through a friend’s translation recently.

This Monday will carry even more weight for the Batikhs when they observe their first Eid al-Fitr in the States. Eid marks the end of the dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan. Muslims across the world typically celebrate by exchanging food and gifts among friends and family, decorating with lights, and indulging in traditional foods like ma'amoul, stuffed shortbread cookies. Around the Puget Sound region this year, alfresco Eid festivities will spring up in Ballard’s Golden Gardens Park, Rainier Valley’s Othello Playground, and Bellevue’s Newcastle Beach Park.

The Batikhs can draw from an extensive list of contacts, including a WhatsApp group, to make their own plans. The Muslim Association of Puget Sound Muslim Community Resource Center (MAPS-MCRC) and International Rescue Committee (IRC) have helped them build a community around their apartment in Tukwila.

Refugees entering the U.S. are resettled in cities where they have existing connections, like relatives or friends, according to the IRC. If those ties don’t already exist, they’re placed in areas where some residents share their language and culture—and where there’s an affordable cost of living and applicable social services.

The IRC and other state-approved resettlement agencies meet refugees at the airport and guide their acclimation for the first 90 days. The organization aims to ensure children are enrolled in local schools, affordable housing is secured, resumes are updated, jobs are found, and health care accessed—ideally all within those first 90 days. The relationships forged in those initial three months often last longer, like the connection Mahmoud shares with a case worker who provides ongoing career and networking support.

Beyond these essential nuts and bolts of daily life, Seattle’s IRC chapter strives to make refugees feel as welcome as possible in a place that’s often across the globe from anything familiar. This Ramadan, that “welcome home” came in the form of heavy cardboard boxes delivered to recently-arrived Muslim families like the Batikhs. Chickpeas for homemade hummus, dates to break the daily fast, green tea, halal meat vouchers, red lentils, and cooking essentials were all among the culturally conscious gifts. Creating and distributing these boxes also involved local partners like the military veterans of Team Rubicon, ICNA Relief, and Essentials First.

Even though Mahmoud didn’t know a soul upon arriving, he doesn’t feel like a stranger in the Puget Sound region now. Not with all his newfound friends. But when he and Nahed gather with that group for Eid, someone will still be missing. While their son has settled into a job at Sea-Tac, their daughter remains in Turkey with her husband. The family hopes she’s part of the next wave of refugees to find some solace and community here. At the very least, it would be nice to celebrate Eid together again.

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