October 22, 2014

Elyria
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Woman shines light on Muslim holidays

OBERLIN — While Christians celebrate Christmas, Jews celebrate Hanukkah and some blacks celebrate Kwanzaa, Muslims look forward to two holidays called Eid.

And one of the most prolific writers of children’s books about Eid lives and works in Oberlin.

Fawzia Gilani-Williams said Eid-ul-Adha, which begins Thursday and lasts four days, commemorates the love and obedience of the Abraham, who agreed to sacrifice his son, Isaac, before an angel sent a ram to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place.

Muslims sacrifice a thanksgiving lamb (or other animal) and distribute the meat to the poor, neighbors and family. The day starts with a sermon and congregational worship followed by parties and games.

Another Eid holiday is Eid ul-Fitr, a three-day celebration and follows Ramadan — a month of fasting. During Ramadan, Muslims worship, give to charity and do other good deeds.

During Eid-ul-Fitr, which took place in October, Muslims dress in their best clothes, listen to a sermon and worship, and then monetary gifts are distributed to the poor, said Gilani-Williams.

Gilani-Williams, who has finished working on her 23rd children’s book, said she strives to make her stories accessible to all children, not just Muslims.

She began tinkering with writing children’s stories and designing games after she came to the United States from her native England when she married Robert Williams of Elyria in 1993. Taha Publishers UK expressed interest in her stories, and her first book was published in 2001.

What began as a hobby has branched into a work of love she can share with her 12-year-old daughter, Muslimah, who illustrated her mother’s most recent book, “The Jilbab Maker’s Eid Gift.” Muslimah also illustrated “Haleem & Kaleem’s Eid Gifts,” which will be published in 2008.

Muslimah’s favorite Eid memory comes from 2003, when her mother’s chemotherapy drew to a close and her cancer went into remission. She remembers coming downstairs to a room festooned with ribbons and paper chains.

Gilani-Williams said her Eid memories date back to being with her family in England when she smelled her sister-in-law’s cooking, played with her nephews and nieces and worshiped with people she had known since she was a child.

Her first Eid in the U.S. was in 1994, and colleagues of her husband, a teacher, brought gifts and well wishes so she wouldn’t feel homesick.

But her best Eid memory occurred at one of her lowest points — when she was laid low with chemotherapy after she was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2002.

“It was morning, and rather than rushing around to get ready to go to the mosque for the Eid prayer, we were just sitting,” she said.

Her family from England had telephoned and sent gifts, but she felt very lonely until her mother-in-law, Judy Kayden, knocked on the door. “She was hidden behind all sorts of wrapped boxes with a huge smile on her face as she shouted out ‘Eeed Moobarak! — that’s how you say it, right honey?’ ”

Gilani-Williams works on the public service team at Oberlin Public Library, and her writing  remains focused on children’s books. She also writes letters to the editors of newspapers about Muslim topics, and this month’s edition of School Library Journal contains an article she wrote about the lack at many libraries of informational books about Muslim holidays.