Events bring Madison’s Muslim community together to celebrate its families

Events bring Madison’s Muslim community together to celebrate its families

This story was originally published on, but is republished here with some additions.

It is part of a Madison Commons series produced by master's students in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. These stories explore how people in Madison and Dane County find different ways to develop cultures within our community, looking for opportunities to draw connections with each other to learn more about our world.

Madison’s Muslim community closed out Ramadan, a holy month in Islam, with its celebration of Eid Al-Fitr earlier this year, on April 21, at the Alliant Energy Center.

Eid Al-Fitr is one of the major holidays in Islam. It celebrates the end of Ramadan and marks an end to month-long fasting. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown. The celebration brings the spread-out Madison Muslim community together for a time to pray and celebrate.

This year’s Eid Al-Fitr aimed to be more inclusive of Madison’s Muslim community members and their families. In addition to the usual festivities, vendors and activities for kids were implemented for the first time.

As an underrepresented slice of culture in Dane County, the growing Muslim community finds its first inclusive push to gain a social foothold through its addition of family-friendly attractions with their biannual Eid celebration.

“Madison has an incredibly dynamic and growing Muslim community, many of whom are families, families with young children, and a group of very committed Madison residents with young children decided to work with the mosque leadership to help set this up,” said Mouna Al-Gahaithi, an organizer of the event. “It's been a lot of logistical work, but really the goal behind it was that we have a lot of families to serve. Let's do it in a really fun way that models what a lot of other communities around the country do.”

The additional portions added to the Eid celebration are commonplace in cities with more established Muslims communities. Places on the East and West coasts are known to provide a full family inclusive environment.

Al-Gahaithi took inspiration from a group she organized, Moms of Little Muslims, and Eid prayers in Milwaukee. She believed that if a community close to Madison could create an environment for Muslim families, they could do it, too. This year was a pilot for future attempts.

“Smaller Midwestern cities don't have big festivals, but we just have so much potential here. We have such great networks, such great connections, such great interest, and these kinds of events — so we just knew we could make it happen. And so, it was really just like, why not? We can make this happen. People want to see this,” said Al-Gahaithi. “I think that there just needs to be more events for families, more events for young children.”

The difficulties in religious expression and finding comfort expressing a Muslim identity is something that Madison’s Eid celebration aimed to tackle, too. Umar Warsi, principal of Madinah Academy of Madison, hopes to foster a sense of pride in Madison’s Muslims.

“Growing up within America, I've had that struggle as a young kid, you know, trying to hide my identity, being embarrassed by my mom's or my dad's appearance, not being able to eat food while I'm in public school and having to explain what is Ramadan… as a kid, it's really hard to be put on the spot,” Warsi said. “That's why I love being the principal of the Islamic school because students get to be confident in their own identity, and we foster that through emphasizing our celebrations and being able to pray on a daily basis.”

Hopes are high for Madison’s Muslim community. Leaders of the community have found Madison to be a welcoming place for them as its population continues to grow. It is currently estimated that the Muslim population in the Madison area sits at around 15,000. With that, challenges of serving its growing Muslim population is on the mind of community leaders like Al-Gahaithi and Warsi.

“I think our biggest challenges are the amount of resources that are available to us in terms of education and social services as it pertains to immigrant families, and a lot of families are coming to the United States for the first time in the past five or six years. Most Muslims you'll meet in Madison are very recent,” Warsi said.

Madison currently has only one Islamic school and four mosques. The hope is to meet community needs by expanding the mosque on Madison’s West side. Funding is currently being sought with the goal of having everything ready to go by next year's Ramadan.

With the ever-expanding population of Muslims in Madison, there can be a struggle to find social events that do not involve alcohol. Al-Gahaithi works with her group Moms of Little Muslims to create social opportunities for Muslim parents.

With Wisconsin being a beer-heavy state, much of the social scenes are less friendly to Muslims who religiously do not consume alcohol. Moms of Little Muslims has found a lot of interest in creating a social sphere for nondrinkers through family-friendly activities that both promote cultural Islamic tenets and fill the social needs of Muslims in the state.

This Eid Al-Fitr saw a first fully backed push supported by religious leadership to create a social environment that everyone can enjoy. Al-Gahaithi hopes to continue her efforts and has seen younger Muslims push to create a social environment that meets their respective values.


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