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Adapt or lose out: Expats in Qatar take on the challenges of Eid without family

While Eid provides an opportunity for many to visit family members, expats living in Qatar say they are forced to resort to phone calls to connect with their loved ones back home.

Eid al Fitr is a festival that unifies all Muslims worldwide and fosters a sense of belonging on a large scale. However on a micro-level, many expats who live away from home do not experience the same sense of community felt when Eid is celebrated with family.

Eid, a national holiday in Islamic countries, officially begins when the first sighting of the new moon is witnessed. Thousands of worshipers gather in mosques and outdoor spaces around the world on the morning of Eid to pray in unity following a month of fasting.

However, while it provides an opportunity for many to visit family members, others are forced to resort to phone calls to connect with their loved ones.

Lack of ‘family’ element in Eid

For expats in Qatar Eid is translated into the bitter-sweet phrase of ‘home away from home’ where the family element of Eid gatherings is not an option.

“I feel like Eid and any other festivities is what you make of it, whether at home or away from home. With that being said though, you often don’t feel the spirit of Eid when away from family and when you’re not carrying on certain traditions, but you can always create your own and have a special Eid, even if different, with your community and friends here,” Aya, an Egyptian-Canadian told Doha News.

“When you’re with family there’s often more to do and you’re more bothered to go out, visit people, etc. but when you’re away from family it can feel demotivating to be super festive,” she added, noting some may not find it necessary to buy Eid foods, or decorate their homes.

However, other expats who spoke to Doha News said they’ve opted for a more adaptable approach.

“This is my home now in a way because I have my family here with me, including my wife and daughters. However not being with my parents on Eid is difficult as it’s always been a custom and tradition to spend the first day of Eid with your full family,” Hassan from Yemen told Doha News.

“Even though technically it’s only my wife and daughters here as my ‘family’, my friends are close enough to be considered as ‘family’ as well. New friends I’ve made in Qatar do not replace my old friends and family but it makes things a lot easier,” Hassan added.

British national, Azeeza, says she adopts her own version of Eid as an expat living away from family.

Eid away from family means “searching for ideas of what to do on the day until the last minute [and] trying to create my own ‘traditions’ for celebrations,” she told Doha News.

“While living away from family may reduce one element of the celebration, there is still a place for community,” Azeeza said.

An expat Eid in Qatar

Despite her hands-on approach, Azeeza feels it is difficult to adapt.

“It feels like the country shuts down or events are geared towards families, which is a bit understandable but not appealing to everyone. It does seem to be improving now though, with more offerings and activities, like fireworks at least can be enjoyed by everyone, but again many things still seem to be geared towards families and children,” she explained to Doha News.

Referencing a common practice witnessed in the Muslim community in the West, Azeeza said: “It would be good if the mosque spaces weren’t just used as places of prayer, e.g. community picnics in the mosque grounds or something. Also, more offerings and information for non-Arabic speaking expats might help as I feel sometimes we miss out (without the reliance on social media outlets for updates).”

Sharing a piece of his Yemen memories, Hassan told Doha News: “Eid in Qatar at times – at least over the past years I’ve been here – is a lot quieter than I would’ve thought. For example in Yemen you can feel the streets full of Eid celebration from the smallest of things. Kids just playing outside and celebrating, to the entire community coming together.”

A side-by-side comparison of Eid in Qatar and Yemen, Hassan said in the Gulf country “unfortunately as many of the locals are closed off within their own gated villas or compounds, everyone pretty much seems to stay to themselves and their families.”

However, especially in recent years, authorities have ramped up efforts to make Eid celebrations obvious with decorations erected around tourist spots like Katara, Corniche and Lusail Boulevard.

Taking a detour on the common narrative and more on an analytical angle, Aya told Doha News she believes Eid in Qatar can be “quite commercial.”

“In general, I do believe it’s what you make of it, but it can be not very festive and a little redundant. Eid in Qatar can often feel quite commercial, instead of a communal celebration,” she said.

“I am sure this is not the case with people who have a lot of family here, but the majority of expats do not have much or any family here,” Aya said, adding that while on a national level, there are Eid efforts, it frequently seems like they are geared solely toward children, while all else for adults is commercial-based.

Hassan shared similar sentiments.

“We have to come together and decorate and embrace Eid by sharing our company with our neighbours and community without waiting for others to take that first step,” he suggested.

“But where there are celebrations and events, Qatar does a nice job of embracing Eid and giving everyone an opportunity to enjoy, whether you’re Muslim or not,” he added.