Posted in Books, Reviews

Review: Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices

Review: Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices
Edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed; illus. by Sara Alfageeh
Intermediate, Middle School    
Amulet/Abrams   272 pp.    g
5/20    978-1-4197-4083-1    $17.99

For Muslims around the world, the two Eids (Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha), conjure images of joy and community and include celebrations which vary by region and consist of different traditions. 

Common traditions for the observance of both Eids often include new clothing, congregational prayers, special foods, and most importantly, time with family and community. Through prose, verse, and imagery, including the vibrant cover art, and a comic selection, authored by G. Willow Wilson and illustrated by Sara Alfageeh, the stories in Once Upon an Eid capture all of those traditions and so much more.

Consisting of stories by 15 Muslim authors of diverse backgrounds, each selection explores an aspect of human experience with incredible complexity and sensitivity. Characters are relatable, and reflect a range of Islamic practice and identity. Stories are set in a variety of locations, with many taking place in non-Muslim majority countries and communities. Readers are given the opportunity to explore many Eids not just reflecting different cultural ties characters might have but the joys, sorrows, feelings of grief, and love that take place when set against a much beloved and significant holiday. 

In Jamilah Thompkins-Bigleow’s “Perfect,” readers meet twelve-year-old Hawa on her way to celebrate Eid with her father’s side of the family in the Bronx. Though she would rather be celebrating with her friends, she is forced to confront a complicated relationship with her cousin, and the comparisons between them, that are tied to expression of identity and authenticity, body image and style, and family structure. In Hanna Alkaf’s “Taste,” set in Malaysia, the protagonist Alia feels alienated because of her mother’s absence and her sense of guilt surrounding that absence. In N.H. Senzai’s “Searching For Blue”, Syrian refugees make a home for themselves and carve a place for celebration in Greece. Thompkins-Bigelow’s poem “Eid Pictures” connects the joy and imagery of Eid in the African American community, the history of how that community was built in the United States, and the first Eid of stolen ancestors longing for their homelands, community, and faith. 

The subtleties of each story offer readers familiar with particular communities the opportunity to see themselves, some for the first time in print. Readers unfamiliar with the diversity within the Muslim community are given an intimate look into different communities, challenging the false idea that Muslims are monolithic. On a deeper level, this book gives Muslim readers the opportunity to look at, consider, be in conversation with, and understand complex feelings and how we can improve understanding of each other on a fundamental human level with empathy and compassion. Stories are inclusive of different family structures, socioeconomic backgrounds, relationships between Shia and Sunni Muslims, and recent converts to Islam. 

The core of the narratives are examining these familial relationships, expression of cultural, racial, religious identities, self-exploration and self-acceptance and are incredibly intersectional. While Once Upon an Eid centers Eid narratives, its stories are important to share in a library or classroom collection year round and hold universal appeal.
Mahasin and Ariana were recently part of Abrams’ Beyond the Book, and were able to interview editors S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed about Once Upon an Eid.