Saturday, 18 June 2016

A Muslim Easter Bunny for Jewish Children? - Jillian Pikora

This is the twelfth post in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan. 

Credit: Jillian Pikora

grew up in a majority Catholic-Christian town, Easter was a big deal. Besides going to church for a mass with a priest who knew everyone's name, there was the bunny. I mean that with a capital B because I'm talking about none other than the larger-than-life, Easter Bunny. He would go to the town commons and hide eggs for all the children to find. After I became a Muslim I was unsure if I would ever celebrate this holiday again and share such sweet memories, but then an opportunity arose. In 2015 I became the Easter Bunny, this is how my metamorphosis into our cotton-tail friend came to be: 

I am preparing to move to Egypt to be with my fiancé (now husband) when I am told my favorite two little girls need a sleepover while their mom and dad have a date night. I'm still living with my parents and they've decorated the whole house for the Easter season. They always have respected my new religion but like to continue to include me in the more secular traditions of the Catholic faith they raised me in. I thought it would be awkward for my guests, not because of my faith (we all acknowledge this is an odd juxtaposition although not too surprising given my lingering affinity for Christmas) but because my guests are being raised in the Jewish faith of their mother. 

I decide to talk to the girls' parents about my concern. Instead of sharing any apprehensions, they are excited to have this opportunity to girls hunt for eggs at my parents house. "Because childhood should be full of's really special the way that your family includes my children in your traditions-there's a lot we can learn about each other from sharing traditions as an observer. I love the way you blend the beliefs you grew up with those that called to you and that you chose to follow as an adult, and I hope that seeing that now will help them understand that they can as they grow, explore and discover their own things and find ways to balance where they come from with who they become." 

The parents give me a bag of goodies to use and add to my Easter Bunny surprises. I have also prepared books about Egypt to read at bedtime to help them understand more about my impending trip, because at five and seven the idea of Egypt involves many questions about who lives in the pyramids and random things about camels.  

Credit: Jillian Pikora

At 6pm the girls arrive, and kiss their mom and dad goodbye. After eating, watching a movie, playing dolls and dress-up; we color and decorate eggs.  While they are drying we go and reading all those books, as they fall asleep in a pile of pillows, stuffed animals, and sleeping bags. I head to my room and hope they're still asleep when I take on my new role as Bunny in the early morning.  

Here I am just before sunrise. I put on my hijab and give salah (prayers) for fajr (dawn prayer time) Then I assemble Easter Baskets full of goodies. Next I fill plastic eggs with sweets, stickers, and other small prizes to be equally divided and awardedin the same way my big brother and I did when we were small. Finally, I hide the eggs around my room and the game room and lay out a set of bunny ears for my two special guest. 

The girls awake. The five year old loves animals and runs to put on the Bunny ears. Afterwards the two little rabbits explore the house and find those eggs. They sort out the spoils and go through the baskets. When we sit down for our breakfast they ask me about why the Bunny comes to my house if I'm not Christian. I tell them, "My mommy and daddy are Christian so the Bunny still stops by for any children who stay here. He wants us to celebrate spring and all the beautiful things coming to life, not just Jesus' resurrection." 

They youngest says, "Yeah, because I don't believe in that." The older girl shouts as if she is interrupting, "Yes, and YOU don't either!" I smile and say, "that is true but the new life can be baby sheep, chicks, flowers. You've seen all the pretty flowers outside and they come out because it's spring." They both said and emphatic "Yes" and they start asking all sorts of questions about eggs; "Why are they colored?" "Why are some plastic?" "Why do we hunt for them?" "Are there special Easter foods?" Where do these traditions come from if they aren't all Christian?"  

I love all these questions. I think, and hope, I was this curious at age 5 or 7, like these two smarty-pants! I try my best to tackle the questions..."Special foods are smoke meats and fish, boiled eggs, and onions. I don't think you like those that much, especially for breakfast, so we're not having that today...This tradition, and the egg hunt, date back to ancient Egypt even before Cleopatra, that we read about last night. Many cultures color eggs, but I don't know all the reasons behind it." We finish the morning exploring Google on my phone.  

We make plans to stay in touch by taking 'flat' or picture-paper doll versions of each other to all the places we will travel while we're apart, then taking photos of dolls at the cool places, and sharing them on Facebook. We have one last big hug good-bye.  

Credit: Jillian Pikora

It's been over a year, yet I still keep thinking: Why do I think it was important?  

Why was sharing a tradition like the Easter Bunny so special? It was special because we celebrate the holiday differently based on the cultures we are exposed to. My parents have many Polish ancestors, so the food and painted eggs are more important than any egg hunt, because where are relatives are from Easter is a time that often still has snow melting. Maybe that's why I typically hunted for plastic eggs indoors and not out in the chilly air on the town commons. Beyond culture; I wanted these young girls to see how different faiths can share traditions without insulting or disrespecting their own. Just like when they bring me Porum cookies or share a date with me when I break my fast, we are celebrating our differences not hindering our own believes. This opportunities expand our perceptions not limit them.  

I've been reflecting on this event this Ramadan and how much sharing this tradition helped me understand how my childhood beliefs could translate into how I want my future Muslim children to see the world. As the girl's mother said to me, "the relationship and understanding of Muslims is so complicated and so filled with anger, and hate and terrible words. The only way to change that is to ensure that we create the bridges on the smallest levels so the kids always have positive messages to counter the negative messages about Muslims and IslamIt's about creating a better, safer, more peaceful world, but mostly it's about sharing something you love and showing kindness with my kids, who love you.

Jillian Pikora is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and news sites including but not limited to; Azizah Magazine, Huffington Post, Coming of Faith, Sisters Magazine, New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Guardian. Jillian has made appearances on CNN, Fox News, CSPAN, and Al Jazeera. She currently is a writer at CairoScene. 

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