CAIRO - Marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, a group of Muslims will host Houston's first-ever `Eid festival for Muslim converts, helping them enjoy their first experience of the Islamic festival.
"We want to let them feel the spirit of what Eid really is," Abdullah Oduro, who converted to Islam 15 years ago, told Houston Chronicle.
Recalling his first `Eid after reverting to Islam, Oduro still remembers thousands of men, women and children who flooded into the mosque to celebrate the Islamic holiday of `Eid Al-Fitr - marking the end of the month-long fasting of Ramadan.
Getting hundreds of hugs and smiling faces yelling, "Eid Mubarak!" or "blessed Eid, the spirit in the mosque made the then 20-year-old ecstatic.
Returning home, Oduro, the only convert to Islam in his Christian family, felt very alone.
The same feelings were shared by Isa Parada, a Salvadoran-American convert and educational director at Masjid Sabireen, a mosque in Stafford.
"It took me a few years to really understand the concept of Eid," said Parada, also 35, who converted when he was 19.
"I sensed that the other Muslims were happy and excited, but I felt like I was kind of on the outside looking in."
That's why this year, Oduro, Parada and several other converted Muslims will host Houston's first-ever Eid festival for Muslim converts on Sunday.
"Eid is like the Christmas of Islam," said Parada.
Parada recalls fond memories of Christmas mornings, waking up early with his siblings to open gifts.
"I just want to bring that spirit back for my kids," he said.
`Eid Al-Fitr is one the two main Islamic religious festivals along with `Eid Al-Adha.
During `Eid days, families and friends exchange visits to express well wishes and children, wearing new clothes bought especially for `Eid, enjoy going out in parks and open fields.
For Mike Ball and his family, Sunday will be a new experience celebrating their first `Eid.
"I don't have any expectations," said Ball, a bookstore manager who with his wife converted to Islam eight months ago.
Just hoping to be surprised actually.
Ball is among a growing number of converts to Islam in the Houston area.
Despite the group's continuous growth, the city lacked a structured program to integrate new Muslims into the greater Muslim community for years.
Trying to solve the problem, Oduro, who earned a bachelor's degree in Islamic Studies from the Islamic University of Madinah in Saudi Arabia in 2010, created the KnewU class.
The class is a weekly initiative at Masjid Hamza - a Mission Bend mosque - that teaches new Muslims and non-Muslims about the basics of Islam, while still encouraging them to be proud of their American roots.
"There's a lack of understanding and education of the new Muslim phenomenon," said Oduro.
"A new convert will get a thousand hugs at the mosque when they enter Islam, but when they get home, no one is there to educate them," he said. Lack of family support can add to the strain.
Catering to the mostly all-American new Muslim demographic, the festival will take on the look of a Christmas party meets Fourth of July celebration complete with barbecue, hot dogs, football, contests and gifts.
"I'm really excited about this Eid!" said Ana Turner, 26, as she helped fill gift bags for Sunday's festival.
A Mexican-American, Turner converted to Islam last summer, and she's hoping this Eid will be far better than last year's.
"We actually missed the Eid prayer last year," she said regretfully.
This year, the newlyweds will attend Sunday's new Muslim Eid festival at Masjid Sabireen.
"There's nothing more American than barbecue and football," said the Spring Branch ISD high school teacher, laughing.
Her husband, Russell, hopes to see more initiatives for converts and new Muslims in the future.
"It is very badly needed to have an American-dominant presence within all mosques in America," he said, "because some of us have a rough road coming into this."