Belief

Eid memories: 'The highs and lows of my childhood depended on the moon.'

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Jalal Baig hamming it up in grade school

Jalal Baig hamming it up in grade school

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Jalal Baig

As a Muslim kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago in the 1990s, I had a really strong interest in astronomy. Few things, not even girls, captured my imagination and stirred my curiosity more.

It's because my days off from school, which are the greatest reprieve for any child, were dependent on the moon.

You see, the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle. And celebrations of the two most prominent Islamic holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, cannot commence until the new moon has been physically sighted — so there was never a fixed date on the calendar for these holidays. 

The highs and lows of my childhood became dependent on the vagaries of the moon. 

My most urgent task at the start of every academic year was to identify state and federal holidays on the school's calendar. I still remember being thankful for the existence of a Polish soldier named Casimir Pulaski. He got me a day off on March 7. 

The allure of these days off made the mundane grind of homework, lectures and tests more tolerable.

Being one of the few Muslim students in my school, I approached my teachers annually to give them advance warning about the unpredictability of my Eid holiday. It could be this day or that day, I explained during our epic discussions about lunar cycles and new moons. One year I even used pictures to support my case.

Despite my hopes, I doubt my teachers appreciated my passion and resourcefulness. It probably seemed like a grand hoax to them. Kids do have wild imaginations.

Because clarity about the specific day arrived on such short notice, I often had to attend school on Eid anyway, despite my carefully laid plans. There was always a test or something essential. 

For me it was tragic. I lost my inalienable right to a day off from school. 

Now that I'm finished with school, I worry less about astronomy. The passing years have brought with them wisdom. 

These days the importance of holidays isn't about a day off. It's the opportunity to spend time with family and friends. 

I celebrate these opportunities, even if my professional responsibilities only spare a few hours.

Another Eid will soon be upon us. But I no longer have a need for that telescope. 

Jalal Baig is a physician and writer in Chicago and a fellow in the department of hematology and oncology at the University of Illinois, Chicago Hospital.

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