Eid Mubarak! Eid al-Fitr begins this Sunday and ends on Monday evening. For a month now, Muslims have been keeping the fast of Ramadan. Eid al-Fitr celebrates the breaking of the fast.
The fast of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is kept throughout the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. From sunup to sundown each day, Muslims neither eat nor drink, not even water, not even chewing gum. The fast is for the healthy and able; elderly people and young children are exempt from it, as are pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Meals during Ramadan are meals in the light of the home while darkness covers outside. The first, suhur, is prepared and eaten in the hours well before sunup. The second, iftar, is prepared and eaten after the sun sets. Between those two meals, Muslims may eat and drink in the deep of night if they choose.
This month of Ramadan is about more than the fast. It is a sacred month, the one in which Muslims believe God first revealed verses of the Quran to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel (Jibril). While Muhammad was meditating in the Hira cave on Jabal al-Nour (Mountain of Light), Gabriel appeared to him and commanded him to “Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created; He has created man from a clot (of blood), Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, Who has taught by the pen. He has taught humanity that which they knew not (Surah Al-Alaq 96: 1” It is as much a month of prayer as it is a month of the fast.
For Muslims, Ramadan is also about self-discipline. It is about remembering that God is the source of all, and to remember thankfulness and appreciation. Sara Al Zyoud of Amman, Jordan, says in a podcast on Stories of Our City, “This whole month is the time that I have to show that appreciation, to show that gratitude.” It is about remembering common humanity: by enduring hunger and thirst every day for a month, they are aware that many go hungry and thirsty, thus cultivating compassion that connects to another of the pillars of Islam, zakat, or charity.
Family is central during Ramadan. Al Zyoud says it’s the time “I feel that I’m closest to my family. It’s the epitome of family values.” She describes the warmth and happiness of iftar each night, having fun with her family, laughing and chatting, drinking tea and coffee, and explains that it is the one chance during the year that her family all gets to have that fun and just be with each other in their otherwise hectic lives that pull each of them in different directions – work, school, travel – on a normal daily basis. “It’s a special experience,” she says.
Because the focus is on the family, al Zyoud points out that it’s rare for a person to have iftar by themselves. Nor is iftar about gorging after the day’s fast. She explains that many Muslims break the daily fast with dates, but that her family prefers a light soup because it is easy on the stomach after the many hours with no food or hydration throughout the daylight hours.
Finally, at the end of this month of prayer and fast and contemplation comes the festival at the end, Eid al-Fitr. It is the first of two Eids (pronounced “Eed”) during the Muslim year. The second is Eid al-Adha, which occurs at the end of the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Eid al-Adha is a feast of sacrifice; Eid al-Fitr, the festival of breaking the fast, is more a feast of abundance.
Customs vary depending on where in the world Eid al-Fitr is celebrated. In some places, for example, it is a national holiday. Eid begins with special prayers and includes reflection focused on forgiving others and asking to be forgiven (one can see parallels to this in Judaism). In some places in the world, people decorate with lights; some decorate with flowers; some give gifts. People dress up; it is a festive time. Always there is food, including sweet foods, and it is a time not just to celebrate the bounty of God and the bounty of the earth in feeding us all, but to share that wealth with others in need through the giving of alms and other goods. For example, Islamic Relief USA runs an all-volunteer Eid toy drive every year across the country.
Above all, Eid al-Fitr is a time of happiness. For Muslims, the effort of Ramadan has deepened their faith and ushered them into the tenth month with renewed mindfulness. Again, to our neighbors, Eid Mubarak (Blessed Eid!)