Eid al-Fitr – understanding a cultural and religious celebration
WORLD – The muslim world will celebrate the end of their fasting month on 28th July 2014 (or the 29th, for some countries). Here are some information to help you understand this celebration and its significance.
The Islamic Calendar has 12 months and 354 or 355 days in a year. Its first year began in AD622, which coincided with the pilgrimage of the Islamic prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and muslims spent the month fasting from dawn till dusk, everyday.
The fast does not allow muslims to eat or drink throughout the day. Fasting is also a common practice in other religions. The significance of fasting is varied – fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, and this is the main reason why it is carried out. It is also a symbol of abstinence – in a month where you abstain from food and drink, you are also to abstain from vices and negative thoughts or mannerisms that are not in line with the religion’s belief of love, harmony, tolerance, mutual understanding and peace. Some reports have indicated crime rate falls during the month of Ramadan.
The end of Ramadan
At the end of Ramadan, a new month begins. The first day of Shawwāl is Eid al-Fitr, and fasting is prohibited on this day. Traditionally, the first day of every month is the day of the first sighting of the cresent moon. This moonsighting method means some countries would celebrate Eid al-Fitr a day later than others. Some countries adopt astronomical conventions and rules for ease of establishing the beginning of months – this allows for forward planning and governance.
Eid al-Fitr usually begins with a morning prayer and sermon at mosques or outdoor locations. For those with deceased loved ones, a visit to the grave site is the norm, and flowers and prayers are offered. Families and friends then visit each other’s homes, enjoy food and drinks, and present gifts in the form of food, toys or money to children and the elderly. This is traditionally celebrated over three days. In most muslim countries, the first three days of Shawwāl are official public holidays.
Common practices on Eid
Some common practices on Eid al-Fitr:
- Before the start of the Eid morning prayer, Muslims are offered the opportunity to donate. This donation is known as Sadaqah Al-Fitr in Arabic, and represents a donation you give to symbolize the end of fast and your charity.
- Children usually receive money from the elderly on Eid, although some receive toys or gifts as well. When visiting your loved ones, families exchange gifts such as food and gift baskets. The exchange of gifts is not mandatory but a sign of love for the other party. One is only expected to gift within their means.
- In Asian countries, homes are usually lighted up with candles or light bulbs – similar to what we do at Christmas.
- Most of the celebration revolves around food. Every home you visit will have cookies and goodies, on top of a huge feast the families have cooked up for their morning breakfast and visiting relatives.
- On the day of Eid, most are dressed up in new clothes to celebrate the day. In some countries, individuals donate new clothes to orphanages. There is also the practice of adopting an orphan for a day to allow them to enjoy the environment of a family, but it is not known if this practice is widespread.
- In many countries, muslims invite their non-muslim neighbours and friends into their homes to enjoy the festivity and celebration.
Eid is a celebration of love, respect and understanding. Where many muslims voluntarily fast for one month and break their fast to hearty, full meals every day, those who live in poverty or dire circumstances do not have the privilege to fast out of choice. It is a month where many are consciously made aware of the sufferings of the poor and strive to do more good.