Eid al-Fitr: Breaking the fast around the world

Once again, as they have for centuries, Muslims celebrated the Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, on Wednesday. 

In many ways, this age-old celebration is an injection of traditional values and a historic way of life into a dynamic and quickly changing world.

The festival of the Eid includes a day of special prayers, community life and food and sustenance. After weeks of imposed fasting lasting from sun up to sun down each day, Muslims are prohibited from fasting on the day of Eid. 

Each person and each community celebrates Eid differently, as in a stunning photo slideshow from Al-Jazeera showing Islamic subjects worshipping and otherwise observing the holy day.

In other places around the world, there’s less of an awareness of Eid or even a common idea of what it is. 

Yasir Mohamed, who lives and works as a mental health clinician in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has appeared in local media to talk about Islamic customs and traditions.

Mohamed discussed the meaning and celebration of Eid during an interview with the Gulf News Journal Wednesday.

First he said, you eat.

“That’s the way to worship God on this day.” Mohamed said.

In some ways, he said, it’s a little like the season of Lent in Christianity, which is followed by a celebratory Easter festival.

“There’s the notion of giving up something that is dear to (you).” Mohamed said. “It’s a kind of commitment and sacrifice.”

Mohamed also described the concepts of zakat and fitra, two forms of charity that should be practiced prior to the Eid prayer.

Zakat, he said, involves a periodic donation of a portion of one’s wealth, typically 2.5 percent, to charity.

Fitra is more direct: Mohamed said it involves giving poorer people a small amount of money to help them to have a good celebration.

“The rest of the community comes forward and gives this minimum donation.” Mohamed said.

Eid is about prayer and worship, Mohamed said, but it’s also about family. Muslims may travel over a period of days to go home to an extended family to celebrate. This is one reason, he said, why businesses in Muslim communities and nations might close, either on Eid or a couple of days in advance.

But along with all of the celebration that is done by observant Muslims, Mohamed said, there’s also a component of the celebration that goes beyond the faith community.

“We extend it to those outside of the community.” Mohamed said, giving an example of someone bringing food to a neighbor who may not be Muslim. 

There’s a welcoming aspect to the holiday that’s part of the spirit of the festival, he said.

Practically speaking, Eid is a relief, not just for individuals, but for the demands of community and business life. In many ways, things “go back to normal” with everyone eating and drinking throughout the day. However, the modern practice of an ancient custom is one powerful sign of how religious and cultural life sustains itself in a “24/7” world.

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