Eid al-Fitr is the Islamic celebration that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, a time of fasting, spiritual renewal and reflection. This video segment from Religion & Ethics Newsweekly looks at Ramadan and how American Muslims observe it in a non-Muslim culture.
The Eid al-Fitr (eed ul-fitir) is the “Festival of Breaking the Fast.” It is one of Islam’s two major religious holidays and marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. It is a festive celebration that occurs during the first three days of Shawwal, the month following Ramadan.
Preparations for Eid al-Fitr often begin days in advance. Each household donates food or money to buy food for those in need so that everyone can have a holiday meal and share in the celebration. Family members participate in the making of sweets and specialties. Houses are cleaned and decorated, creating a festive environment for the celebration and influx of guests soon to come.
Muslims, dressed in their best attire, begin the first day of the Eid with special prayers performed at the local masjid or at large indoor or outdoor gatherings. A sermon is given after the completion of Eid prayers. Muslims then greet their fellow worshippers with “Eid Mubarak,” meaning “May your holiday be blessed.”
Children attend carnivals that are specially set up for the celebration of Eid al-Fitr. They receive gifts, money and other special treats. Families visit their relatives and friends to exchange greetings and enjoy festive meals.
Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr in thanks for the blessings that God has bestowed upon them. Their joy is also in their completion of the religious obligations of the month of Ramadan with the help and guidance from their Lord.
BOB ABERNETHY: And now our calendar this week, the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the month-long observance of Ramadan. It's a joyous time, and a release from a long period of self-denial -- fasting during Ramadan. Every day, Muslims were obliged to have nothing to eat or drink, no cigarettes, no sex, no bad thoughts or deeds from sunrise to sunset. On Thursday in the Washington, DC, suburbs, Muslims from this area gathered for the first day of Eid al-Fitr. We asked Dr. Abdalla Idris Ali of the Islamic Society of North America to tell us about the observance and its meaning.
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Dr. ABDALLA IDRIS ALI (Islamic Society of North America): So the eighth day is actually a celebration that people have come out of the fasting month. From the morning, people usually take a bath, they eat something light to break their fast, and then they start chanting until they come to the prayer place. And they keep chanting. It's a day also where people wear new clothes, they have to mend their relationships, they have to remember God. They are charged spiritually and they have some relaxation so they can go back and reflect on what they have been doing and they carry that charge with them so that they can be more kind, more tender, and more understanding to our people. Immediately after the month of fasting, there is some charity that is to be paid. It's called Zakaat al-Fitr. This is a time that we don't want to feel joyous by ourselves, but we want also for people who are deprived, wherever they are, that they enjoy the day and actually the eighth day brings people together.
ABERNETHY: Along with prayer and other obligations, observing Ramadan is one of the five essential pillars of Muslim practice. So what's it like to practice self-denial for a month?
Last week in northern New Jersey, Dr. Mona Tantawi and her extended family and friends shared their Ramadan experience with us. Dr. Tantawi, speaking of the spiritual high that fasting gives her of depriving the body to enrich the soul. Anisa Mehdi is our correspondent.
ANISA MEHDI: Sundown on Super Bowl Sunday, Muslims across America are eating dates, as they have done every evening during Ramadan. The daily fast was over.
Dr. MONA TANTAWI: For the Muslim, it's mind and soul and your body, and one goes with the other. So you're depriving of the body but enriching the soul.
MEHDI: The Iftar, the breaking of the fast, brings people together after a day full of secular obligations, for a night full of religious activities and socializing. You see, fasting, that is, abstaining from food and water and bad thoughts, is only one requirement of Ramadan. Muslims are supposed to read the entire Qur'an during the month, and there are extra prayers to perform each night.
Morning brings a new day of fasting. Dr. Tantawi has no time to think about food, she has sick children to treat.
Dr. TANTAWI: Your throat is hurting? Okay, how about your nose, is it bothering you?
It teaches a lot of tolerance and it gives us a lot of will when we are able to try to balance our culture and religious demands and our obligations toward living in a country like America.
MEHDI: Muslims traditionally begin observing the fast at the time of puberty. At Leonia High School, 13 Muslim students blend into a population of 600. At lunchtime, sophomore Negua Elsumara heads for the media center. She's not just being studious; for obvious reasons she finds it easier to be here than in the cafeteria.
NEGUA ELSUMARA: I feel good about myself that I actually could do it, that I fasted for a whole month.
MEHDI: As schools like this one become more diverse and students become more observant, accommodations are made for religious practices. For example, Leonia High rescheduled the school's midterm exams for Muslim students. A consideration not available to Negua's big sister Fatima, now a sophomore in college. In high school she was ridiculed for covering her hair and fasting.
FATIMA ELSUMARA: The students and the teachers gave me a hard time when it was during the month of Ramadan or when I started wearing the veil, which is the Muslim code. But I got through and I made it easier for the next generation coming up.
MEHDI: It may be easier for the next generation to observe Ramadan in a non-Muslim society -- to deny the demands of the body in a quest to refresh the spirit.
Dr. TANTAWI: It's really important enrichment, it's like comprehensive way of looking at the human being, because we're not just flesh but we're also soul, and that's what you're trying to enrich.
MEHDI: I'm Anisa Mehdi.
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