Deia is a seventh-grader I know who comes from a land most of us know only from Arabian Nights. It is a land of extremes, from the gorgeous blue of the Mediterranean to the wild barren area known as the Dead Sea. Prophets from all three major religions are thought to have walked its streets, making it the center of much modern conflict. The land is called Palestine.
Because of the ongoing war, Deia's parents decided to move to Connecticut last summer so he and his siblings could know life without violence. I was fortunate to speak to him and will share a little about his days in Palestine, the religion of Islam and local customs.
While Americans are familiar with the holidays of Christmas and Hannukah, Deia celebrates 'Eid. 'Eid means "recurring happiness or festivity." It is customary to slaughter a cow and share the food with the poor. This holiday resembles Thanksgiving; both encourage people to give to the less fortunate.
Another holiday Deia and Muslims everywhere celebrate is Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. This holiday requires members of Islam to fast for 30 days, which means no one is allowed to eat after sunrise or before sundown. During his fasting period Deia asks his teachers if he can sit in their rooms during lunch so as not to be tempted by students eating in the cafeteria. After the 30 days of fasting, Deia's family celebrates with a huge feast.
Palestinian children attend school six mornings a week, where Deia was taught Arabic as his first language, English and mathematics. He also attended three science classes. Boys and girls do not attend school together, and girls typically receive less education than boys.
Friday was Deia's only day off from school because that is a holy day and everyone stays home and prays. On Friday he would play soccer, which is as popular in Palestine as baseball is in America. His field was covered with pebbles and rocks and the girls were not allowed to play with the boys. In his free time, he would visit the mini-mall in his community.
Unlike many children, Deia takes his religion very seriously. Before he prays, he must wash his hands, arms and legs three times, and wash his mouth, nose and hair once. Mondays and Thursdays are the days he fasts to ask God's forgiveness. It is believed that if you pray for forgiveness during the first six days of January, God will forgive you in exactly one year.
You may be shocked to hear that in Islam you are not allowed to date unless you are ready for marriage. In my school, people start dating as young as 12 years old, but in Deia's culture you wouldn't unless you were prepared to become engaged. Also, it is customary to ask the girl's father for permission to date. Brides wear white as they do at American weddings.
While there are many differences between our cultures, it is also apparent that we share similar values. Deia lost several family members in the Palestinian conflict (his cousin died at a check-point while giving birth) and he says his prayer is for peace for all people everywhere. Let's hope that prayer is answered.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.