I was ambushed at the last minute to help by a school assignment that was due right before one of the year’s biggest holidays: What is Eid ul Fitr and why do we celebrate it? It was an unexpected and unwelcome surprise for two reasons:
The first was realising I have deeply held assumptions.
The trouble, or rather the advantage, with being a Dar resident is that you get so used to assuming everybody knows the basics about the two main religions (including significant sects and the differences between them) and has a vague awareness that we also “respect” traditional spiritual practices while in effect discouraging them for various reasons.
The second embarrassment came when I realised I had to Google my answer surreptitiously so as to appear to give a brief but authoritative answer.
Turns out there is a major difference between being generally aware of other religions and actually understanding them in any depth.
Thanks to the Internet, the day was saved and I learned a few things that frankly I should have known better anyhow. Especially in this bizarrely divided age, when religion has become a major issue in so many societies.
I have always taken it for granted that as Tanzanians we live together with religious freedom and respect because that is all I have ever known.
This is not at all to say we are some kind of paradise — religious friction is one of the active schisms that we all keep an extremely keen eye on.
However, as far as I know, the social contract stipulates that we live and let live and generally address any issues of conflict “internally.”
Meaning that religious frictions are discouraged within the religions themselves, down to the societal level generally and in public policy as much as possible without being an affirmative action-style programme.
It is easy to lose sight of the advantages, the blessings one enjoys sometimes. Through the ports of the Swahili Coast and the travels inland, Tanzania has always been connected to the world.
And in the past two decades more and more of the world has been coming to us. So not only can one be a Kiswahiliphile wending your way through the layers of the national language with its attached histories intertwining religions historically — from Arabic scripts to Roman letters, ancient crumbling historic mosques and gently aging seafront cathedrals and beautiful Hindu and Sikh temples…
…now we can also look forward to celebrating the Chinese New Year on a more visible basis, and let me tell you I have spotted at least one Buddhist monastery in a very unexpected location so there’s that.
Globalisation, that oft-maligned term, is one of my favourite things about living here: you never know.
Confession: I travel by stomach and it has been indescribable to have a little bit more of the world on Dar’s plate every day.
So you can see why I needed some education via Googling about the significance of the Holy Month of Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr for a school project in anticipation that, as the school year progresses perhaps the exploration of our ever expanding society means I won’t get stuck on the minutiae of Iftar meals and how to get invited to them, but rather pass on the importance of understanding the spiritual practice behind it.
And Diwali, Goan Christmas dinners, of course Chinese New Year traditions and so forth. Salaam.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]