More recollections of Eid overseas

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi

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In a previous article, I recalled some of my memories about the celebration of the Eid festival while I was working as a diplomat in a number of countries. These included one of the most unforgettable Eid feasts that coincided with the G-77 conference held in the northern Colombian city of Cartagena in South America. I was part of the Saudi delegation attending the conference.

Eid Al-Adha was a working day, coinciding with the first day of the conference during which two sessions were held. The first session was from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. while the second session was from 4 p.m. until 7 pm As a Muslim, I felt that it was our right to celebrate the Eid festival.

I contacted some members of the delegations from Muslim countries and suggested requesting that the conference presidency declare that Eid Al-Adha a holiday without any meetings so that we could celebrate the day. Most of the delegates I spoke to welcomed the idea and agreed to approach the presidency with the request.

We finally received approval from the presidency after arduous negotiations. The first thing that we thought about was offering the Eid prayer. Then, our thoughts revolved around who would lead the prayer and where the prayer would be performed.

The group of Muslim diplomats would have dispersed without having an opportunity to perform Eid prayers if I had not come forward to exert efforts with delegations from other Islamic countries

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi

Fortunately, a translator volunteered to be the imam and khateeb. One of the officials of the hotel in which the conference was being held was a Pakistani. He expressed the hotel’s readiness to provide a place for performing Eid prayer. He also expressed the hotel’s readiness to hold a tea party for the worshipers after the prayers.

On the morning of Eid, we gathered in the hall allotted by the hotel to perform Eid prayer, but the man who promised to lead the prayer did not appear. We could not find an alternative. So I expressed my readiness to carry out the task, but I could not recall how Eid prayer was performed, especially how many takbeers one has to make in every rakaah.

I said that if there was anyone who could provide me with the information, I was ready to lead the prayer. After intensive discussions and consultations, we got the correct information on how Eid prayer is performed, and I carried out my role as imam.

Return to the topic

What prompted me to return to this topic once again was comments made by a reader of my article. He said: “It was shocking that a Saudi diplomat does not remember the number of takbeers in the Eid prayer.” I was really surprised when I read this comment. Firstly, a diplomat like other people might forget something.

Secondly, Eid prayer is not like the five daily obligatory prayers or Friday prayers of every week that believers are accustomed to do regularly. Thirdly, a diplomat is not required to lead people in Eid or Friday prayers or even in congregation prayers unless there is a dire need for him to do so. Because of our presence in a non-Islamic country, I agreed to take the role of imam in the absence of a more qualified person, as it was an unavoidable responsibility.

I agree with the reader with regard to the Saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him), reported by Abu Masud Al-Ansari. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “The person who is well versed in the recitation of the Book of Allah, should lead the prayer; but if all those present are equally versed in it, then the one who has most knowledge of the Sunnah should lead it...”

But in our case, there was no one who had any competency in leading the prayer. If there had been anyone who was willing to perform this mission, there would not have been any reluctance on my part to let him do so.

Leading prayers

As I pointed out, the person who had expressed his desire to lead the prayer was absent. No one from among the attendees came forward, expressing his willingness to lead the worshipers. It was only then that I agree to do so.

But I shared with the worshipers the problem that handicapped me in carrying out the mission properly by admitting that I did not remember the number of takbeers to be pronounced in each rakaah. I asked the attendees if any of them knew the exact number of takbeers in each rakaah. As it turned out one of them did and, therefore, I was able to lead the prayer.

All of the worshipers were delegates attending the G77 conference and most of the delegates were diplomats accredited to Latin American countries or part of the permanent missions of various countries at the United Nations headquarters in New York. For example, the delegation of Saudi Arabia was comprised of four people, headed by the permanent representative at the UN.

The group of Muslim diplomats would have dispersed without having an opportunity to perform Eid prayers if I had not come forward to exert efforts with delegations from other Islamic countries as well as with the presidency of the conference to make the Eid day a holiday.
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com or via Twitter @DrAliAlghamdi.

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