After a month long unusual routine of day-long fasts, comes the festival that marks the end of special prayers, supplications, meditations, reflections, trials and tribulations, and restrictions.
The ninth month of Muslim calendar, Ramadhan, is the month of fasting, when every able-bodied person is obliged to fast from dawn till dusk. The fasting is a combination of prayers said after an interval of couple of hours, depending on the position of the sun and time of the day. The fasting, to put it in a nutshell, means nothing can go in or come out of the body of the person. It is not only about eating and drinking but also a restraint against immoral pleasures.
The festival Eid gives an interesting insight of the society of Muslim countries. It not only shows the vibrant colours that picture the landscape but it also depicts the contrasts present in the culture and how people react to it. Despite the gloomy political and economic situation prevalent over the Muslim world, Eid is one festival that somehow unites the people and makes them forget the woes and worries with its colourful yet spiritual extravagance.
Sighting of the new moon is an integral part of the festival. While the faithful rest and relax after the end of fasting, religious scholars and astronomers assemble to sight the moon in the skies. There is a divide on how to sight the moon with some people insisting on using naked eye for sighting whereas others advocating the use of telescopes to catch a glimpse of the moon. If sighted, the next day is Eid.
The sighting takes place on the evening of the 29th day of the Ramadhan just after Iftaar (end of fasting). The moon was not sighted on the evening of 29th fast in most of the Muslim countries this year, hence an additional 30th day of fasting was added.
While scholars and their associates deliberate on the moon sightings keeping in view the evidences, people eagerly await the decision in their homes resting and getting ready for the next round of prayers. Many housewives, with the help of kids and other family members, start cleaning and other preparations for the festive day despite the uncertainty.
Some people make it to the rooftop hoping to sight the moon themselves. However, it is not an easy task as the sky is sometimes cloudy which hampers the sighting of the celestial event. Pollution is another problem that makes it hard to see the new moon with the naked eye. If sighted, the evidence can be sent to the new moon sighting committee to be considered by the scholars.
The announcement of the sighting of the new moon for Eid comes on the television channels as soon as the committee reaches a decision. Many people tune into news and entertainment channels to get the updates and bring an end to the suspense.
As soon as it is confirmed, the life takes a new twist with festivity and joy filling the air. Decorations, both electric and handmade, are hung on walls and in streets to kick off the festival.
Time for Isha – the night prayers – and people visit the mosques to say their prayers and greet the faithful in advance. The amount of prayers is shortened as Taraweeh, a prayer that encompasses the recitation of passages from Holy Quran, is no more offered due to the official ending of Ramadhan.
Places that you’ll definitely find busy are bus and train stations, over-crowded with passengers who want to get back to their families in towns and villages to celebrate the event with them. Special services are run to facilitate the migrants to ensure their timely and safe journey.
Soon after the end of night time prayers, people, especially women and children, flock to the bazaars to buy clothes, jewellery, food items, decorations, perfumes and gifts. Many people head to the full to bursting bazaars to get the buzz of Eid eve whereas others visit the place to get bargains.
Women are mostly active during the night visiting beauty parlours and saloons for beauty treatment. The applying of henna, a paste of the henna shrub leaves, to decorate the hands and feet with hand-drawn designs is one of the most important ritual performed by girls and women. The skin gets the colour within an hour or so with a dark orange shade left when the paste dries.
Some hennas are tainted with synthetic dyes to give a permanent tattoo-style effect. They are very harmful for the skin, resulting in severe allergies and illnesses. The traditional henna, called mehndi in the Indian sub-continent, is said to be useful for the skin due to its organic nature.
A trip to the bazaar in the Indian sub-continent would be incomplete if bangles are not bought by women of all ages. The bangles are a traditional Indian ornament worn by women on special occasions like festivals and weddings and are made up of glass, plastic, silver, platinum and gold. They are usually worn in pairs in each arm.
Bazaars continue to heave until dawn when shoppers head home with heavy bags and vendors with loaded pockets. People in the Indian sub-continent call the night “chand raat” which literally means “moon night”. Boys and girls usually flock to the marketplace with their friends whereas women are accompanied by family members and neighbours.
After the shopping frenzy, some faithful gather in the mosque to offer the first prayer of the day i.e. Fajr which is said at dawn. Very shortly, the worshippers return home to get ready for the official Eid prayers that are held soon after sunrise.
Eid is an Arabic word that means ‘festivity’ whereas Fitr means ‘conclusion of the fasting’. The prayer is offered in an open space to foster the sense of togetherness and unity. A detailed statement is given by the Imam before the Eid prayers which is followed by a religious sermon in Arabic and supplications. After the conclusion of the prayers and the sermon, the faithful stand up and hug each other while exchanging Eid greetings.
Eid prayer is an important event for the Muslim women too. The womenfolk assemble in segregated areas of grand mosques and open spaces to say the prayers. After prayers, they mingle with each other and spend some time together.
The taste of Eid ul-Fitr is not complete until sweets are not served and consumed by the faithful. Despite the diversity of Muslim cultures around the world, there is a consensus about the essence of the Eid – its sweetness. In Turkey, the Eid is referred as Şeker Bayramı meaning ‘Eid of sweets’. Similarly, people in the Indian subcontinent also call it Meethi Eid which means ‘sweet Eid’.
Breakfast is an all important affair on Eid day. Usually, Muslims are obliged to have a bit of breakfast before going to the Eid prayers as fasting is forbidden on Eid-ul-Fitr. On the return to home from the prayers, mouthwatering delights greet the faithful which are enjoyed with the family.
Eid also highlights the gap between the rich and poor in the society. Growing divide between the classes of the society has been dogging the Muslim world for decades. Islam has a system to plug the divide called Zakat and Fitr. It is compulsory upon every Muslim to donate a set amount of money to a poor family before offering the Eid prayers. The proceeds go directly to the poor either directly or through charitable organisations.
Despite the festive occasion, many people visit the cemetery soon after the Eid prayers and spend their time at the graves of their loved ones. The symbolic visit is a show of respect and remembrance by the faithful and a way to honour the people they have lost over the years.
It is very important for the family to gather and have the Eid lunch together. Most of the time, the extended family is also invited to a sumptuous meal that is accompanied with sweets, desserts and drinks.
The main highlight of the day is the happiness, joy and laughters of the kids who enjoy the day after pocketing gift money, often in shape of cash. While a few kids tend to save the money, most of the others splash it on toys, rides and confectionary.
Wearing good clothes is part of the festival and every person, regardless of being rich or poor, buys new clothes to be worn on the special day. The ones who decide not to buy new clothes wear washed and ironed dresses that look as good as the new ones. The philosophy behind the wearing of new clothes is to display the importance of the festival as well as answer the human desire to look good and be important in the eyes of the family, friends, neighbours and other loved ones.
The modern day has its pressures on family lives and the relationship between the family members are often strained as a result. Eid is one festival that seeks to rectify the mistakes committed during the year by promoting the spirit of forgiveness and compassion. Each and every individual is expected to meet his family members, friends, neighbours and other acquaintances and renew the ties cordially.
After all the family dinners and get-togethers, people flock to parks, squares, gardens and other places of interest for an outing. It is another occasion where many people meet their friends and have a relaxed time with them. Many variety shows and entertainment events are held in the evening where special rides, games, food and refreshment stalls cater to the needs of both kids and grown ups.
A day full of festivities, togetherness and spirituality comes to a close in an equally impressive style when the faithful offer their evening prayers and offer their gratitude to their Creator. According to the Muslim belief, prayers during the festive day are a constant reminder that celebration and devotion must go hand in hand. It also bears testimony to the fact that life is too short just for celebration or absolute solitude and success lies in a fine balance between spirituality and material well-being.