Eid al-Fitr: Muslims celebrate Feast of the Breaking of the (Ramadan) Fast

Thousands of white-clad Muslims on floor of giant building, pillars among crowd, tiers filled with devotees

Muslims gather for Eid al-Fitr prayers at Istiqlal Mosque in Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, JULY 17: An entire month of sunrise-to-sunset fasting has ended for the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, and the Islamic community transitions from the month of Ramadan to Shawwaal with the joyous festival of Eid al-Fitr.

The beginning date of Shawwaal—the 10th month of the Islamic calendar—varies slightly by location, as the date is determined by the sighting of the new moon. Many families excitedly await news of a new moon from Saudi Arabia, when an official sighting is declared from the land of Muhammad; others look to scholars or predictions closer to home. The atmosphere of revelry and celebration overflows out of mosques, homes and neighborhoods worldwide.

The first Eid was observed by the Prophet Muhammad in 624 CE, and today, Muslims everywhere wear their best clothing for special prayers, processions and elaborate shared meals.

Did you know? The common greetings on Eid al-Fitr are Eid Mubarak (“Blessed Eid”) and Eid Sa’id (“Happy Eid”).

The grand holiday of Eid al-Fitr is referred to in many ways: the Sugar Feast, Sweet Festival, Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, Bajram and Lesser Eid name just few. Though the month of Shawwaal officially begins just after sunset, most of the customary rituals of Eid al-Fitr begin several hours later.

Before sunrise on Eid al-Fitr, Muslims pray, bathe and put on their best clothing. (Wikipedia has details.) Perfume is sometimes worn for the occasion, and a small breakfast—usually dates—is consumed before heading to a nearby mosque, hall or open area. Muslim tradition holds that Eid prayers should be offered in congregation, and so this morning, Muslims fill mosques, parks, halls and even open fields for joyous prayer services. Zakat (charitable giving) has been completed, and adherents spend ample time enjoying the company of family and friends, attending carnivals and fireworks displays, giving gifts and expressing thanks to Allah.

Did you know? Eid al-Fitr is referred to as “Lesser Eid,” while Eid al-Adha—a separate holiday—is “Greater Eid.”

Tradition states that when Muhammad migrated from Mecca and arrived in Medina, he found the people there to be celebrating two special days, set aside for cheer and leisure. At this, Muhammad declared that the Almighty designated two alternate days for these purposes: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

FROM ARABIA TO AUSTRALIA: EID AL-FITR ACROSS THE GLOBE

Eid al-Fitr is celebrated for one to three days, and in many Muslim communities, a central activity is the Eid prayers. Where possible, Muslims walk to the location of Eid prayers, and many use separate routes to and from the prayer grounds. Eid prayers are followed by a sermon, along with a request for God’s forgiveness and mercy. In turn, Muslims are urged to forgive others and put aside differences.

Desserts, sweet, sesame seeds, dried noodles, cream and nuts

Sweet treats are commonly consumed during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Photo by Dani Armengol Garreta, courtesy of Flickr

In Saudi Arabia, it is not uncommon for shopkeepers to offer gifts with purchase prior to Eid, as a display of generosity. In some areas, men purchase large bags of rice and other basic food staples to leave anonymously on the doorsteps of the poor. In major cities, enormous fireworks shows take place each night of Eid celebrations. (View a slideshow of 2014 Eid activites here.) Egyptians observe Eid al-Fitr with days off from school and work, visiting family and spending days at local parks, theaters, beaches and carnivals. Television programs focus on Eid al-Fitr with movie marathons and live interviews featuring Eid commentaries. In Indonesia, one of the largest temporary human migrations takes place with Lebaran, the custom of workers returning to their home town to join in the revelries with their families. Since 1987, Australia has hosted the Multicultural Eid Festival and Fair in Sydney, catering to tens of thousands of attendees.

NEWS: A SCHOOL HOLIDAY, DATES & A $100 BILLION INDUSTRY

Last March, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio officially declared Islam’s two most-observed holidays—Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha—public school holidays. (Huffington Post reported.) The duo was the first religious addition to the academic calendar since the Jewish High Holy Days, in 1960. Throughout Ramadan and during the Eid al-Fitr holidays, dates are one of the most commonly consumed foods: Muslims eat the fruit alone, as part of a sweet dessert or even incorporated into a savory dish. Learn all about the variety and uses of dates—plus access a wide array of tantalizing recipes—in this article from the New York Times. As experts estimate that Muslim spending in America comprises a $100 billion industry, top designers like Giorgio Armani, Tommy Hilfiger and DKNY are taking to the runway with Muslim-inspired designs for Ramadan and Eid. (Read more here.) The largest celebrations take place during the Eid al-Fitr holidays, though industry specialists are advising incoming brands to understand the holidays before trying to “break in” to the market.

Looking for both savory and sweet recipes for Eid al-Fitr? Check out the BBC.

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