On the Islamic calendar, the month of Ramadan is drawing to a close, and the month of Shawwal is about to start. As the months turn over, it is time for Muslims to get ready to celebrate Eid al-Fitr. This is the Festival of Fast-Breaking that marks the end of the month of Ramadan, the month filled with ritual fasting.
Determining the Date of Eid al-Fitr
In 2011, Eid al-Fitr is expected to begin on Tuesday or Wednesday, the 30 or 31 of August. Because the sliver of the moon must be properly sighted before the beginning of the Eid, there is some confusion about what day it will fall on. With so many people connected around the world, and with so many different time zones, it can be difficult to pinpoint exact holidays, and times the months switch over when they are based on a lunar calendar. However, no matter what day the Eid is ruled to fall, there are some celebrations that remain the same.
Part of the tradition of Ramadan is to remember the poor and the needy. Part of this remembrance is to provide charity for the poor toward the end of the month. Sadaqah al-Fitr can be translated as the “charity given at the end of the fast” (meaning the fast of Ramadan). Sometimes, it is also referred to as the Zakat or Zakaah al-Fitr.
One of the reasons that this charity is so important is due to the fact that the end of Ramadan comes with feasting and fun. Muslims are encouraged to give their Sadaqah al-Fitr far enough in advance of the day of Eid al-Fitr so that the poor will have the means to enjoy a feast as well. For this reason, it is traditional for the Sadaqah al-Fitr to be given in foodstuffs. It is expected that everyone in the community be able to celebrate the end of Ramadan.
Traditions of Eid al-Fitr
Gatherings of Muslims take place early on the morning of Eid al-Fitr. These gatherings can take place in mosques, or outdoors. An Eid prayer service is usually part of the day, and can include a sermon along with the prayer.
Prayers asking for forgiveness are also commonly part of Eid al-Fitr traditions. Forgiveness is asked for self, as well as for others in the world. Enthusiastic greetings are often exchanged amongst those in the congregation. It is a time of unity, generosity, and good feelings.
After the prayer service, it is time for the family feasting and fun. Muslims visit family and friends and may exchange gifts. Children are the especial recipients of Eid gifts, which are often colorful. Relatives that live far away are called, and graves of the departed may be visited. There are three days reserved for Eid al-Fitr, so there is a lot of family time to be had, and plenty of good food to go around. In many Muslim countries, Eid al-Fitr is an official holiday, so there are three days off school for children, and for many workers.