THE MUSLIM EID
The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) is reported to have said, ‘there is a festival for every nation, and this (Eid) is our festival.’
There are two Eids in the Muslim lunar year, essentially about thanksgiving, sharing and strengthening communal ties. The first of these (Eid ul Fitr) is celebrated at the close of Ramadan (the fasting month), as an expression of thanksgiving for all that Allah has blessed us with, particularly the Divine Guidance in the Quran the revelation of which began in the month of Ramadan. It is also a thanksgiving for having received the blessed month and acquired spiritual reward through spending it in intense worship and self-restraint.
The second Eid (Eid ul Azha) celebrates the end of the pilgrimage season and the Abrahamic legacy of sacrifice that Islam revives. Both emphasize on giving and including others in joy and festivity by making charity on the occasion a compulsory religious obligation.
On both Eids, the day begins with special prayers performed in congregation in which God is glorified and the prayer leader (imam) engages in ritual invocation to God before the congregation. This invocation calls upon God to ease the suffering of Muslims in specific and mankind in general, to keep one guided and accept one’s effort in His way. At the end of the service people meet and greet each other and give charity to the poor, many of whom congregate to mosques to receive their share to be able to partake of the festivities. Hence a day of celebration commences.
Celebrations on each Eid have unique cultural aspects all over the Muslim world. While the essence is the same, the expression varies across cultures. In my culture, some of the interesting and spectacular Eid day practices include the Pakistani ‘three step hug’ and eating sweet vermicelli cooked in milk for breakfast. For the ladies it means dressing up in glittery traditional clothing- the ‘shalwar kameez’ and ‘dupatta’, which consist of loose pantaloons and flowy long shirts draped with a long traditional scarf. Ladies also wear coloured bangles and paint their hands in intricate patterns with henna. For children Eid means getting pocket money from all uncles and aunts called ‘Eidee.’
One beautiful experience exclusive to Eid ul Azha is the distribution of sacrificial meat. I remember family elders gathering to do the annual ritual efficiently and zealously. According to Islamc tradition, the meat is to be divided into three parts: the first for oneself and one’s family, the other for relatives and neighbours and the third for the poor and needy in one’s community.
One of my Eid day moments is when the door bell rings... I rush to the door and find some hungry old man with sunken eyes or a ragged woman with her malnourished children wanting to know if they could get a share of the meat. The act of giving of what has been entrusted to you by the True Giver, and which is to be spent in His way for His people is spiritually fulfilling.
Having studied at a Catholic convent, as a child I always found Christian celebrations more grandly ritualistic and colourful. I now realize that the simplicity characteristic of Islamic festivals is beautiful in its own quiet way. Islamic sources strongly condemn extravagance, pomp and luxury as ingratitude to God and a sign of selfish arrogance. The simplicity levels all to reinforce Islamic fraternity and egalitarianism. The simple joys of Eid are affordable to all.
Venturing out in the streets of my city on Eid day is a heartening experience- I see, for once, smiles and laughter- little girls all dressed up, children at the park flying kites and holding balloons waiting for the ice-candy man. I let my spirit join in, my heart light and celebrating a vicarious happiness. It comforts me with the illusion I wish to hang on to just a while longer- the world is a happy, sunlit little home, after all!