In our newest feature, HolidayHop, Bwog will explain religious holidays so you don’t have to pretend to understand them.
Early this morning, the first of Shawwal, the tenth month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims across the world awoke for the fajr, the pre-dawn prayers. Then, for the first time in 30 days (since the start of Ramadan, the month of dawn-to-dusk fasting and abstinence), they will eat in the light of day. This light meal—usually in keeping with prophetic tradition it will involve something sweet, often dates—is the first act of celebration of Eid ul-Fitr (roughly translated, the festivity of the conclusion of the fast).
Eid, as it is more commonly known (although not to be confused with the longer Eid al-Adha), is a complex and rich holiday, but to brutally encapsulate its celebrations and remembrances, it is a day of thanksgiving—thanks for the health and strength and faith to complete the fast—and a day of renewed faith, forgiveness for past grudges, and the wishing of Allah’s blessing upon all. Yet for all its importance, it is a day most Americans have trouble recalling as, like all the Muslim holy days, it is calculated by a lunar calendar not in sync with our own. The sighting of the new moon marking the beginning of the new month of Shawwal, which was spotted last night, ends the Ramadan observances.
Believers, dressed in new clothing of the best they can muster, congregate in a field, a community center, or a mosque for the Eidsalah/salat/namaz (whatever one’s culture calls it), special prayers marking the day. The prayers are followed by a khutbah, a sermon instructing the faithful on items to keep in mind, such as rituals and instructions on the paying of zakat (alms). As with any day of thanksgiving, the giving of alms and service to those less fortunate is an essential component of observance. This year, most of these gifts will inevitably be directed towards the suffering millions in Pakistan.
After prayer and sermon, families withdraw to homes or community centers for a large celebration (food, fireworks, the whole shebang) with family, friends, and acquaintances. Gifts are given to children, usually in the form of sweets, which are generally quite copious at these celebrations (as there is actually an Islamic injunction against fasting on Eid, why not celebrate the bounty?). While American Muslims typically take the day off for Eid, the celebrations often carry over into the weekend, carrying with it the sense of thanks and spiritual awareness that breaks upon the ummah (the community of the faithful) with the Shawwal moon.
Bwog hopes that the Muslim community of Columbia is celebrating this day with family and friends.