Fast Facts: Basics of Eid'l Fitr

Fast Facts: Basics of Eid'l Fitr

Eid al-Fitr means "Feast of the Breaking of the Fast", and it culminates the end of fasting during the Islamic holy month. Fasting on Ramadan is the fourth out of five Pillars of Islam - a set of acts that Muslims are mandated to observe throughout their lives.

The feast also marks the start of Shawwal, the tenth month of their calendar Hijri. It is a joyous day, filled with feasts and celebrations, all geared towards thanksgiving for God's hand in their lives and in their communities.

Fast Facts: Basics of Eid'l Fitr

(Photo credit: primer.com)

Here are a few general ideas about this holy Muslim feast.

1. Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most crucial Islamic celebrations.

Eid al-Adha (The Feast of Sacrifice) is the second, and is celebrated on the 10th day of the last month of the Islamic calendar. The celebration commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his own son to God. Eid al-Adha highlights the end of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, which is the fifth pillar of Islam.

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2. It has many names.

Eid al-Fitr is also otherwise known as Eid al-Saghir (The Lesser Feast), while Eid al-Adha is Eid al-Kabir (The Greater Feast).

Eid al-Fitr is called many other names throughout the Muslim world. Between the Muslim communities of Southeast Asia, it is known as Hari Raya Aidilifitri or Hari Raya Puasa. Hari Raya means "Celebration Day."

3. It does not have a fixed date in the Gregorian/Western calendar.

The Islamic Hijri calendar depends on lunar cycles, while the Western calendar follows solar cycles. An Islamic month begins with the first new moon that follows the sunset of the last day of the last month. Therefore, the Islamic calendar does not account for seasonal changes nor coincides with Western calendar months every year.

Furthermore, since it's a lunar calendar, the Hijri calendar is 11 to 12 days shorter than the Western calendar year, and it goes further back yearly. For example, the Islamic New Year in 2014 was on October 24 in the Western calendar. Last 2015, it was on October 13. This 2016, it will be on October 1.

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4. Its date varies - even within the Islamic community.

New moons don't occur at the same time around the globe. Because of this, Muslim communities tend to have their own observations techniques and calculations to ascertain the date of this important feast.

Some traditional Islamic communities acknowledge the beginning of an Islamic Month not with a first new moon, but with the physical sighting of the first crescent new moon immediately after the end of Ramadan.

Other Muslim communities use calculations to determine the start of Islamic months. In Saudi Arabia, they use the Umm al-Qura calendar, which is a calculation of the Hijri calendar derived by the Institute of Astronomical and Geophysical Research of the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.

5. It starts really early in the morning, with communal prayer.

In observation of the Sunnahs - teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad - the faithful begin the feast day by bathing, donning their best clothes, anointing themselves with perfume and eating something sweet before meeting up in a large Mosque or a designated open prayer area with their families to begin the day in prayer.

The second Pillar of Islam - Salat (prayer) - instructs the congregation to face in the direction of Mecca. Eid prayers are composed of two units called Rakats, and around 6 or 12 Takbirs (a ritual prayer acknowledging that God is the greatest).

These prayers are followed by Khutbas (sermons) by the Imam. They usually focus on thanksgiving to God, a historical background or significance of the celebration, forgiveness between neighbors, and responsibilities to the third Pillar of Islam - Zakat (almsgiving).

To conclude this, the faithful is once again instructed by the Sunnahs to leave the prayer area in a route different from the one they took to get there.

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6. Eid al-Fitr greetings immediately follow the prayer service.

After the communal prayer service, the congregation rejoices, greeting each other with the traditional "Eid Mubarak" (Blessed Eid) or Eid Sa-id (Happy Eid). Greeting cards can also be exchanged between friends and family.

The greetings are not necessarily in Arabic - they depend on the community. In Malaysia, the faithful are more likely to greet each other with "Selamat Hari Raya" or "Selamat Hari Raya Aidalfitri", which means "Happy Celebration Day (of Eid al-Fitr)."

7. A special Zakat for Eid al-Fitr called Zakat al-Fitr or Fitrana is followed.

This day calls Muslims to remember and give emphasis to their obligations to the poor. If they are financially capable, followers must give the poor or charity groups the ritual Fitrana donations, traditionally accounted for by the head of the family on behalf of the members. Donations can also come in the form of basic necessities, like food and clothing.

Fitrana is usually given before the communal prayer service so that the poor can take part in the festivities.

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8. It's a sweet and festive day for families.

The Eid day is to Muslims what Christmas is to Christians - it's a time for merriment, celebration, feasting, and the exchange of Eidi (Eid gifts) between Muslims and their families. The meal on this day is special for most Muslims because it is their first daytime meal after a month of fasting during Ramadan.

Eid'l Fitr is also referred to as "the Sweet Eid" because of all the sweet foods that are traditionally served in the feast.

9. Eid al-Fitr is also celebrated in the Philippines.

In 1977, the Presidential Decree 1083 was signed. It recognized Eid al-Fitr as a legal holiday for all Filipino Muslims - and in 2002, the signing of the Republic Act 9177 upgraded its status to a national holiday throughout the country.

In the Philippines, Eid'l Fitr is known as Hari Raya Puasa. Filipino Muslims traditionally return to their hometowns to celebrate the feast. For Muslims based in or around Manila, services and celebrations are held in Quiapo's Golden Mosque and around Rizal Park. - MB, Kami Media

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