Women in saris mingled with those in jeans while students of all faiths made an offering to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi in Edmunds Ballroom over the weekend. For a few hours, the ballroom was transformed into a center for cultural exchange as the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and the Claremont Colleges Hindu Society both used the space to host events last week.
The MSA invited students to celebrate Eid al-Adha. Also known as the Feast of Sacrifice, the holiday commemorates Abraham’s devotion to God, which he demonstrated through his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac at the Lord’s command.
Two days after the Eid celebration, the Claremont Colleges Hindu Society re-transformed Edmunds Ballroom for their Diwali celebration. Diwali translates to “The Festival of Lights.” In India, it marks the end of the harvest as well as the beginning of the financial year for businessmen.
“Diwali celebrates prosperity, but in a non-material way,” Jivika Rajani PO ’17, a student who grew up in New Delhi, said. “It celebrates things like the wealth of knowledge over ignorance, and the wealth of having health and happiness over sickness.”
These events were open to all students, which created a unique opportunity as well as a challenge for organizers. They had to figure out a way to cater to students who might come from the Hindu or Islamic traditions as well as to those who had absolutely no experience with either religion.
“This is a way for Muslims on campus to celebrate an important holiday, and also for non-Muslims to get a feel for the religion,” MSA treasurer Tooba Karim CMC ’16 said. “I feel like the Muslim community isn’t that known on campus because our population is not that big, and there’s not that much awareness of our presence. So this is a chance to let people know about us.”Steps were taken in each celebration to accommodate all present. The Eid celebration featured keynote speaker Zeinab Abdelgany, who noted the universality of the Isaac and Abraham story
and its importance for Jews and Muslims alike. In explaining many aspects of the holiday for those who were less familiar with it, Abdelgany emphasized the Muslim perspective.
“You as Muslims will be told to play it safe, to conceal your identity to avoid ending up on somebody’s watch list … You will be urged not to be an activist,” Abdelgany said. “But none of these great prophets left a legacy by playing it safe.”
Both events also featured performances that people of any religious background might enjoy. For example, the 5C Bollywood Dance Team performed at both events. The Eid celebration also featured a musical performance led by world-renowned musician Salar Nader. At the Diwali celebration, translations for hymns known as aartis were provided on a large screen at the center of the room.
The Eid and Diwali celebrations were both well-attended. The Eid celebration had to order a second round of food, while many had to stand at the back of Edmunds Ballroom during the Diwali celebration after all the seats had filled.
“I felt a real sense of a community,” Joel Freeman PO ’16, who attended both events, said. “There’s this inner community celebrating their holiday, but then there’s an outside community supporting them in their celebration of that holiday.”