A time of joy all around the world
Eid-ul-Fitr arrives in the wake of the holy month of Ramadan and marks the end of fasting for Muslims seeking purification and salvation. It is a joyous festival that has both spiritual and social connotations.
From that point of view, the crescent moon that heralds the end of the month brings with it spontaneous delight -- for the young and old. It is an occasion of incomparable joy and fellowship.
“Romjaner Eid” is also remembered for the large banquet of food that is normally prepared for this occasion. The food items usually include polau, chicken korma, rezala, kebab, prawn malai curry, and chili chicken -- reflecting the cultural aspects of the cuisines which still exist in Iran and Central Asia.
Many other dishes are also prepared, depending on whether expatriate members of the family are visiting Bangladesh at this time. This is particularly evident in the variety of sweets -- rasmalai, rasgulla, sandesh, firni, mishti doi, and faluda. For Bangladeshis, Eid-ul-Fitr is the most awaited public holiday.
There may be differing social and common communal aspects of observance of Eid-ul-Fitr in various countries, but some basic values are common -- empathy for the poor, charity, worship, steadfastness, patience, and acknowledging the spiritual realm being superior to the physical realm. In this context, the osmotic effect plays a significant role.
I will start my journey from Saudi Arabia, the birth place of Islam. Eid festivities in that country may vary culturally depending on the region, but one common thread exists in all celebrations -- generosity and hospitality.
Consistent with tradition, families gather at the patriarchal home after Eid prayers; children line up in front of adult family members who dispense money and gift bags to them.
It is also traditional for Saudi men to go and buy large quantities of rice and other staples, and then leave them anonymously at the doors of those who are less fortunate.
This is consistent with the concept of Fitrah and Zakat. In the major cities of Saudi Arabia, every night, there are also huge fireworks shows.
The next stop will be in Turkey. Eid-ul-Fitr is referred to as both “Bayram of sweets” and “Ramadan Bayram.” The entire three-day holiday period is infused with national traditions. It is a time for people to attend prayer services, put on their best clothes, visit all their loved ones, and pay their respects to the deceased with organized visits to cemeteries, where large, temporary stalls of flowers, water (for watering the plants adorning a grave), and prayer books are set up for the three-day occasion.
It is regarded as especially important to honour elderly citizens by kissing their right hand and placing it on one’s forehead while wishing them greetings. It is customary for young children to go around their neighbourhoods, door to door, wishing everyone a “Happy Ramadan Bayram.”
For this, they are awarded traditional sweets or a small amount of money at every door, similar to the Halloween custom in the United States.
In Egypt, Eid-ul-Fitr starts with a small snack followed by Eid prayers in congregation where the sermon reminds Egyptians of the virtues and good deeds they should do unto others, even strangers, during Eid and throughout the year.
Afterwards, neighbours, friends, and relatives greet one another with “Eid Mubarak.” Family visits are considered a must on the first day of the Eid.
The other two days are normally used for enjoyment, by going to parks, cinemas, or by going on a Nile river boat cruise.
In South Africa, particularly in Cape Town, thousands of Muslims, including expatriate Bangladeshis, gather at Green Point in the evening of the last day of Ramadan each year for the sighting of the moon. Everyone comes with something to share with others at the time of breaking the fast.
The Maghrib prayer is then performed in congregation, and the formal moon-sighting results are subsequently announced. The number of Bangladeshis is beginning to grow in this country because of secondary migration from Iraq and countries located in the Arab Gulf.
One interesting aspect is that on this day, most people eat samosas.
The media has also reported that many South African Muslims have started to visit Bangladeshi restaurants on this day to enjoy Bangladeshi cuisine, particularly spiced beef or mutton curry followed by traditional Bangladeshi sweets, including halwa.
Afghanistan, a predominantly Sunni Pashto-speaking country, starts preparing for Eid-ul-Fitr by cleaning their homes consistent with the cultural practice called Khana Takani in Dari. The interesting thing is that special emphasis is given to serving “jalebi” to visiting guests.
Sociologists suggest that this explains how this particular type of sweet found its way to Bengal. It is also common practice for children to walk from home to home saying “khala Eidet Mubarak” (“aunt happy Eid”). The Persian word “khala,” as we all know, is now part of the Bangla language.
The customs and rituals of Eid-ul-Fitr are quite similar across Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, and Southern Thailand -- presently home to nearly 630,000 expatriate Bangladeshi workers.
In Indonesia, the occasion of Hari Raya Idul Fitri creates a distinctively festive atmosphere throughout the country, along with traffic mayhem. This occasion represents one of the largest temporary human migrations globally, as workers tend to return to their home town or city to celebrate with their families and to ask forgiveness from parents, in-laws, and other elders.
In Malaysia, Eid is more commonly known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri -- meaning “celebration day.” It is customary for Muslim Malaysians to wear a traditional shirt on Eid-ul-Fitr known as the Baju Melayu, along with a sarong known as kain samping or songket, and a headwear known as songkok.
Eid in Malaysia was previously celebrated in most parts by lighting traditional bamboo cannon firecrackers filled with kerosene and calcium carbide. However, this has now been mostly stopped for ensuring safety and security.
Most Muslims in the US and Canada offer their Eid prayers in big city Islamic centres, convention halls, or open parks. Muslims from different cultures with multi-national customs and differing ethnic backgrounds get together for prayers and celebrations.
In some cities, prayers are held multiple times to accommodate the large number of attendees. Sometimes, Muslims reserve amusement parks, skating rinks, or other activity centres for an entire day of fun. Beginning in 2016, New York City Public Schools also remain closed on Eid.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) has issued several Eid postage stamps, across several years -- starting in 2001 -- honouring “two of the most important festivals in the Islamic calendar: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.” According to new regulations, students from Canadian schools may take two to three days off, because Eid is now recognized as a major holiday in the Islamic culture. One can only conclude by saying that these common socio-cultural-religious factors transport all Muslims for a brief while into another world filled with happiness and devoid of rancour.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]