Last year, when Ramadan ended and I was celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday that comes after Ramadan, with my family, I saw this picture on the internet with the Sesame Street muppets that said “Eid Mubarak!” I watched a lot of Sesame Street when I was little and the fact that these muppets were wishing me happiness in celebrating a Muslim holiday meant quite a lot to me. It was like a form of acceptance from a part of our American culture that shapes the minds of young kids for the better and so it normalized this Muslim holiday. If people can see that the nice muppets from Sesame Street can accept a holiday for a religion that they may not practice themselves, then others can also accept those with different backgrounds because, hey, if Grover can, why can’t we?
That’s why when I learned there was going to be a Curious George book about Ramadan called It’s Ramadan, Curious George, I had one of those pleasant surprise moments, after making sure it wasn’t a joke, of course. Curious George was going to celebrate Ramadan? I read a ton of Curious George when I was little. This is huge!
I pre-ordered the book forever ago and promptly forgot about it. It was only when Amazon told me my book shipped a few days ago that it went back on my radar. The package arrived yesterday and I opened it and ended up reading the book right after I took it out of its packaging. I was, well, curious as to how this childhood icon would take part in the traditions of Ramadan.
I liked the book. It was nice and sweet and wasn’t overly complicated. It wasn’t a religious lesson (which I’m thankful for) but instead a depiction of how a monkey who clearly isn’t Muslim can partake in the traditions of Ramadan with a Muslim friend, even going to the mosque, without it being something weird or unnatural.
One thing that is always clear to me from my own experiences of Ramadan is how different the traditions are from culture to culture. For example, a lot of us have traditional food that we eat during the “iftar” time right at sunset when it’s time to eat again. We eat dates to initially break the fast but beyond that, what you eat will probably depend on your ethnic background and what you grew up eating. That was the biggest thing I was wondering about as I started reading the Curious George book: what kind of food are they going to show him eating with his Muslim friend and the boy’s family?
They handled that part pretty smoothly as the kinds of food that Curious George had ranged from kebabs to pizza. Well played! Kareem, George’s friend, never had his cultural background identified in the story and that works for this. That way, people who aren’t Muslim who read this book won’t pigeonhole Muslims to just one background, as what tends to happen in real life. To find out that Muslims eat pizza too is monumental. If you’re not Muslim and roll your eyes at that with a “Bushra, I know Muslims eat pizza.” you forget that most people aren’t like you. They “otherize” Muslims into people who aren’t like them so the simple things like “Muslims eat pizza!” “They smile and have families!” “They can interact with monkeys without indoctrinating them to ISIS!” goes a very long way.
Before anyone who is against the idea of a monkey interacting with Muzzies can rush out for some poster board and paint to make them a nice protest sign, know that Curious George has already celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah. Hanging out with a Muslim friend to understand Ramadan is part of his modus operandi. He’s curious so he sets out to learn about that which he does not know without making any prior judgement. Now if only everyone else can be like Curious George…
It’s Ramadan, Curious George was illustrated by Mary O’Keefe Young and written by Hena Khan. Young has been illustrating Curious George books since 2005. Khan is the author of other children’s books, including Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, which you should check out too.