Muslims have a rich history of celebrating festivals, each of which is a combination of religious and social factors and on such a score, Eid Al Fitr marks a special occasion in the Islamic calendar.
Special prayers, decoration of homes and offices with colourful lights, distribution of special food and sweets mark the three-day festivities in the Arab world. The celebrations include recitation of the Quran and poetry in the praise of Allah, Prophet Muhammad and Hazrat Ali. Since Muslims make up a rich tapestry of many nations and languages, these are recited in the local language besides the traditional Arabic for Quranic recitations.
Poetry in praise
For example, in the Arab world, Madohs and Qasidas (Poetry) are sung, accompanied by traditional musical instruments. In India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, Hindi and Urdu poetry in praise of Allah takes the form of ‘Hamd,’ while those in praise of Prophet Mohammed are called ‘Naat’ and those extolling Hazrat Ali are known as ‘Qawali.’
During the period of Fatimid Imams, processions led by the Imam in full regalia with accompanying bands along illuminated streets were the norm. In countries under the Persian influence such as Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Qasidas with communal dancing abounded, with poets such as Rumi, Hafez and Nasir Khusraw hailed as national heroes.
Plurality of Islam
Mowlana Hazar Imam declared during a visit to Syria: “The Shahada, La illaha illah Muhammadur Rasulullah binds a thousand million people, who over the centuries, have come to live in different cultures, speak different languages, live in different political contexts and who differentiate in some interpretations of their faith. Within the Ummah, the Ismaili Jamat reflects much of the same pluralism. The plurality of the Muslim world is not just an irreversible historical fact, but it is a strength for which we must be grateful and a strength that must be continuously harnessed to the building of the future within the ethics of Islam. Any differences must be resolved through tolerance, through understanding, through compassion, through dialogue, through forgiveness, through generosity, all of which represent the ethics of Islam.
“Islam enjoins upon us and on every individual the maintaining of a balance between spiritual life and material well being and to ensure that his or her material endeavours are underpinned by the ethical principles of Islam. This balance between din (religion) and dunya (world) entails not only the fulfilment of the individual’s spiritual obligation but also of the obligation to acquire knowledge and to use it for the benefit of others.”
Africa and the Middle East
The Rulers of the countries of the Arab Gulf, Jordan, Morocco and many other countries pardon many prisoners (except repeat offenders and those on charges of serious offenses like drug trafficking), allowing them to return to the society.
It is also a custom for residents in each of these countries to meet their rulers to offer greetings. Television and radio stations, clubs and associations, hotels and restaurants organise special programmes in Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The advent of Islam in Africa has had a long and eventful history. The spread of Islam in the continent began in the 7th century with the Umayyads, who brought the religion to the Middle East and to the littoral of North Africa. Along the coast of Africa, Islam spread among the Berbers, who joined the Muslim community and almost immediately drove north across the Mediterranean into Europe. In Morocco, Muslims founded the city of Fès (808), which soon thereafter gave refuge to Andalusian Muslims fleeing an uprising in Córdoba. On the east coast of Africa, where Arab mariners had for many years journeyed to trade, Arabs founded permanent colonies on the offshore islands, especially on Zanzibar, in the 9th and 10th centuries. From there, Arab trade routes into the interior of Africa helped the slow acceptance of Islam and led to the development of Swahili culture and language.
Asia, America and Europe
In Malaysia, celebrations are marked with highways choked with vehicles. Despite tensions, millions of Muslims in US and Europe celebrate Eid Al-Fitr. Some would don colourful African dress, while others would paint their skin in intricate henna designs. For some, the traditional Eid meal would feature stewed goat and rice, while for others, it would be egg rolls and other Asian delicacies. The sweets range from Egyptian cookies to a popular treat known as ‘halwa.’
George W Bush said at a White House ceremony for children during his tenure as President of the US: “It reminds us how much we all have in common, how similar boys and girls are, no matter what their religion may be. And your joy during this season enriches the life of our great country.”
Muslims of various ethnicities gathered at the Washington State Convention Center to celebrate the day. Muslims in the state include those of Arab, South Asian, Cham (from Champa, a region in Cambodia and Vietnam), Somali, Indonesian, Egyptian, Moroccan and Bosnian descent.
In tough times, a person looks for what he can fall back on. In Islam, it is faith in God and the community.
The Muslim community is an important part of a multicultural, multi-faith faith.
We should welcome the increased participation of Muslims in public life and look forward to helping build on this in the future.