The Night Before Eid
The holy month of Ramadan is a special time of the year for every Muslim family around the world. The end of Ramadan is joyfully celebrated with a holiday named Eid El Fitr which celebrates the end of a month of fasting from sunrise and sunset every day for thirty days. This Eid is synonymous with sweets, sweets, and more sweets – desserts of all kinds from cookies to cakes. Aya Khalil gives us a gift of the children’s book, The Night Before Eid – A Muslim Family Story with illustrations by Rashin Kheiriyeh. The book was published by Hachette Book Group, Christy Ottaviano Books (part of Little, Brown and Company) in 2023.
The story begins with the joyous arrival of Teita who bounds into Zain and his family’s home with much joy and industrious attitude to ensure that the Eid (full of sweets) is well celebrated. I happen to be a teita (grandmother) to a little boy who is two years and seven months old, so the appeal of Aya’s Teita in this story is very dear and near to my heart. The “baking of ‘ka’ak’ requires patience and teamwork”, writes Aya… “Ka’ak are delectable, delicate, crunchy, crumbly cookies” and sweet! Covered with confectioners’ sugar and filled with delicious dates, or malban (a form of Turkish delight) or eaten plain. My fondest childhood memories are also of spending several nights before Eid at my teita’s home in Cairo helping my aunts, my mother and teita make ka’ak cookies. Yet, in my case, it ended up with my sister and cousins having a grand time playing with small pieces of dough rolled into balls and throwing it at each other (like snowballs!). Let us say my teita was not pleased but, we had a lot of fun.
The author makes sure that we have a good grounding in the history of ka’ak cookies that goes back to the ancient Egyptians – the pharaohs – and how the recipes were found in one of the pyramids. I appreciate the way Arabic terms and sentences were inserted in the story and the translation was done seamlessly while subtly following the Arabic. An excellent methodology – a smooth and not an awkward addition. The illustrations by Iranian-born Rashin Kheiriyeh are joyful, delightful, playful, and colorful, starting with the pages within the front and back covers, inviting the reader inside and reflecting the joy and emotions of the words throughout the book.
Aya Khalil does a wonderful job incorporating all the traditions around Eid celebration such as the gifts of money given to children called “eidiya”, drinking apricot juice, staying up all night to bake, traditional songs such as “Ahlan Bel Eid” that welcome the Eid, and the streets with colorful lanterns and bright lights. In my tradition – the “eidiya” had to be crisp new money (coins or paper bills) and I remember how my father used to go to the bank the days before Eid to get the crisp new currency for our “eidiya”. It was a joyous time when we spent the money on sweets and small firecrackers.
The addition of Zain’s classmates and teacher brings the old traditions to the new and current life overseas (away from Egypt). The sharing of ka’ak with Zain’s classmates helps in his acceptance among his peers and the teacher’s request for the recipe is further affirmation of how they appreciated and enjoyed these cookies.
The author is commended for adding several appendices: “Ka’ak History and Tradition – what is Eid?” and the “Ka’ak Timeline – a short history of ka’ak” which goes all the way back to pharaonic Egypt and its evolution until present time. Then the reader gets a glimpse into the author’s family life growing up in a small midwestern American town with photos of her family: mother, children and her husband plus tables filled with delicious dishes celebrating the end of Ramadan with Eid Al-Fitr. Finally, the author adds at the end a simple ka’ak recipe.
A delightful and beautiful book and story – thank you Aya Khalil for bringing back many childhood memories, and thank you Rashin Kheiriyeh for the beautiful, joyful illustrations. Eid al-Fitr this year will begin on 21st April, 2023 – happy celebrations for all.
Heba F. El-Shazli, Ph.D.
George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government
Published in Africa Access Review (April 10, 2023)
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