Chuck E. Cheese would never be confused with an Arabic restaurant, but hundreds of Muslim-Americans crammed the eatery inside the Atlantic Terminal Mall as part of the three-day Eid al-Fitr festival on Sunday.
Apparently, this is a big tradition.
For at least five years, Muslim families originally from Beirut and Bangladesh to Khartoum and Kuala Lumpur have flocked to Chuck E. Cheese on Eid, which marks the end of the month-long Ramadan fast.
This year, Sara Ahmed went for the first time. A native of the Sudan who has been in America for just 15 months, she joined the faithful at the suggestion of her English tutor.
“This is not planned, but most of the Muslims come here because we just like to do something joyful for the kids,” said Ahmed, who lives in Prospect Heights with her husband and three children. “Since we’ve been fasting for a month, it usually involves food.”
But food isn’t the most important item on the Chuck E. Cheese menu. The restaurant also features games and rides, which are as universal a Ramadan tradition as the dawn-to-dusk fast and sexual abstinence.
“Every amusement park would be full [in Khartoum] because this is how people celebrate Eid,” Ahmed explained.
All around her, suited boys and girls in party dresses gobbled up their pizza and scrambled for the video games, rides, and the jungle gym. Colorfully veiled women, speaking dozens of different Arabic dialects, sat in booths surrounding the play area and tried to chat against the din.
It might be one of the most incongruous, organic immigrant traditions to emerge yet, though the sight of hundreds of observant Muslims celebrating the end of the Muslim holy month at a fast-food chain restaurant is no odder than other religious or cultural traditions that have adapted to Brooklyn’s environment. Hasidic Jews, for example, have used ferry boats to assist in casting bread upon the water to mark the New Year, and Italian-Americans carry an 80-ton statue through Williamsburg during the Feast of Nola every summer.
While there are plenty of fast-food chains in the borough, Chuck E. Cheese is near several large mosques, including the Al Farooq on Atlantic Avenue. But it’s the mini-amusement park inside, rather than the pizza, that draws Muslims back year after year.
“I’d be at an amusement park in Ramallah, too,” said Youssef Adnan as his 2-year-old son Adam circled on the carousel. “But in Ramallah, everyone is out together there in the streets, you’re with your family, there are fireworks and olive picking, and you eat off the fig tree.”
— Lysandra Ohrstrom