Eid Celebrations Make Me Feel Lonely In My Interracial Relationship

Photo Courtesy of Humeara Mohamed.
I never feel as lonely as I do on Eid day.
The loneliness began around the age of 19. I was dating my now husband, Jack, and nobody knew except my mum. She wasn’t keen on the idea — I think she hoped it’d be a phase. A white boy phase. As the first-born child of the entire extended family, it was up to me to set the “right” example: Marry a good, Muslim man with a solid job and a respectable family. 
Eid literally means “feast” or “festival” and is a day for Muslims around the world to celebrate. It’s a bit like Christmas for Muslims, except we have two of them: Eid al-Fitr, to mark the end of our holy month, Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha (which is this Sunday), to commemorate the sacrifice of the prophet Abraham. I used to love everything about Eid: the getting-ready process with my mum, sitting on her bed and inhaling the plumes of hairspray and perfume; waiting for Dad to bring us roses after his morning trip to the mosque; baking hundreds of desserts and handing them out to the community; scoffing sirkumu (a delicious concoction of butter, milk, cardamom, sugar, saffron, almonds, vermicelli, pistachios, and dates) for breakfast. Now, it all made me feel a little empty inside. 
So, I was 19 and decked out in a baby-pink salwar kameez and bangles. Henna snaked around my hands and wrists. A barbecue was sizzling in the garden. Cousins were screaming happily on the grass. Biryani was served by the ladleful. My grandma was handing out tenners (or “Eidi”) in colourful envelopes. Everyone disappeared to pray when the adhaan called over the radio, and me? I was tactically in the loo. I was already falling out of love with Islam, or at least my family’s version of it. 
To this day (I’m almost 27), I’ve never willingly eaten anything haram or drunk alcohol. But I don’t cover my hair, I rarely pray, I wear a bikini at the beach and I have a dog. Gasp. My relationship with Allah is my own, and I’m okay with that. 
But on that Eid day, I was still figuring myself out. I’d left home a year or so before and the transition between strict, traditional Muslim life and figuring out my own relationship with Islam was jarring. And lonely. Here I was, surrounded by laughter and joy, witnessing couples and families together, while a big part of my own life was shrouded in secrecy. I was fully in love with Jack already and I knew we’d get married and be together forever. He was kind, patient, charming, and clever. Our values aligned and our lifestyles matched. He didn’t drink much and he didn’t care that I wanted to abstain from sex. Yet I couldn’t tell my family. I couldn’t share my incredibly rich culture with him, and I couldn’t share him with them. I wanted nothing more than to be in that moment, with my family, in their garden, with Jack in tow.
“So, when are you getting married?” An aunt cut through my thoughts in jest. It didn’t feel like a jest. “Abu over there is a great fit. He’s a paleontologist, you know! And he has a great car. You should speak to him. Why aren’t you speaking to him?”
I have a white boyfriend. He’s amazing. He would love to be here. I love a white boy. I’m screwed.
I smiled and laughed and ate my crisps. On the car ride home, I asked my mum if she could ask everyone to stop asking me questions about marriage and suitors. “Well, if you weren’t so blinded by this stupid white boy, maybe you would consider these people!” she snapped. We drove the rest of the way home in silence, me with tears in my eyes.
I’d just like to say here that I love my mum a lot. She’s incredible. She’s not a bad person for believing something she’s been told her whole life. Religion and culture is complicated. She is first-generation born British. Her parents grew up in India before moving to the UK. Her first language wasn’t English. She spent a lot of her childhood helping my grandparents acclimate to life in England. She also spent a couple of years in India while she was still at school. She spent the rest of her time within a tightly knit Muslim community in Coventry. Her upbringing was entirely different from mine and her views are a result of that.
The next few years after that Eid were lonelier than ever. Things with my family were fractured after I eventually told them about Jack. I would ignore the next couple of Eids altogether — they were a painful reminder of how good things with my family used to be, and how bad they were now. Yet I yearned to reconnect with both my family and my culture. I didn’t want to lose that side of me but I had no way back. I wasn’t friends with many South Asians, let alone South Asian Muslims, and I didn’t know where to find them. Besides, what would I say? “Hi, I’m Humeara and I’m really struggling with my identity right now but I can’t go to my family for help. Can I spend time with yours? Can we do our mendhi together? Can I hug your mum? Can I spend Eid with your Indian family? Please?”
I’d tell Jack about how Eid used to be and he’d try his best. “We can make our own traditions as a family,” he’d say, giving me a kiss on the head. “It’ll be okay.”
Eventually that’s what we did. We would gather our friends and go for dinner in an effort to recreate that sense of family and joy but it just wasn’t the same. I felt like I was in a movie, watching everything in slow motion while sounds played as if they were underwater. Everyone around me was happy but I felt separate and lost. I wanted to be at home with my family but I also wanted to be with Jack, who by this point was an even bigger part of my life, having been my only family for a few years.
It haunted me that Jack would never get to experience a classic Eid day. Even when things got better with my family (and they did), everything felt ruined. How could he ever feel comfortable with them and them with him? And with every Eid that passes, I’m only reminded of this. I’m reminded of our differences. Jack and I are so different. And me? I’m broken now. I’m not “brown enough” for my family — I’m the resident “coconut” — but I’m not “white enough” either. I’m stuck in limbo and I want to get out. I just want to belong again.
Most of the time, I feel pretty confident and happy with my life choices and my interracial relationship but Eid highlights the harder nuances of this. Now, I feel more comfortable and at ease on Christmas Day (Jack’s family has always treated me as one of their own and I was welcomed immediately into the fold with gusto), and I feel guilty for it.
I feel guilty that I’m not as Indian and Muslim as I once was — but at the same time I don’t really want to be, I think. I want to be accepted as I am. I wish I could go back in time and somehow get my family to accept me as I was at 19 so that I wouldn’t have to experience such heartbreak. Realistically, of course, even if I could go back in time, nothing would be different. I love Jack, even if our relationship will always be tinged with a hint of sadness and mourning. 

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