Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Two Eids of Islam

Different countries commemorate different types of holidays. One type of holiday is the religious holiday. In countries where different religions are practiced, it is not uncommon for the governments of these countries to declare as a holiday celebrations or festivities specific to a particular religion.

Just recently, in the predominantly Catholic country of the Philippines, many of its citizens were wondering why November 7, 2011 was declared a regular holiday by the Philippine government. Schools were closed and offices (both public and private) had no work. Those who were required by their companies or business to work received double pay.

The regular holiday commemorated on that day was Eid al-Adha. In 2011, Eid al-Adha for all Muslims all over the world was on November 6, as declared by the highest religious body in Saudi Arabia. However, in the Philippines, the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) suggested to the government that it be celebrated on Monday, November 7. In other countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, Eid al-Adha was also observed on the 7th rather than the 6th of November.

Many rejoiced at the announcement of the Philippine government. Citizens took the opportunity to spend time with family and friends. Unfortunately, many non-Muslims did not know why they were given one free day to spend as they wished. When asked why it was a holiday, many Filipinos could not give a definite answer except that it had something to do with a Muslim celebration.

Eid al-Adha

Eid means “festivity” is Arabic. Muslims all over the world celebrate two different Eids in one year. Eid al-Adha, celebrated last November 6 (based on the lunar calendar), is one of the two most important holidays celebrated by Muslims all over the world. It is also referred to as “Greater Eid” or the “Festival of Sacrifice.” In Pakistan, it is called “Bakra Eid” or “Sacrifice Eid.” It commemorates Hazrat Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice as a father. That is to sacrifice Hazrat Ismael (Ishmael), his son, as God commanded, to show his obedience to God. Because of Hazrat Ibrahim’s strong faith and devotion to God, he was instead asked to sacrifice a ram in his son Hazrat Ismael’s place.

Eid al-Adha comes after the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca (located in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) that all Muslims should participate in at least once in their lifetime. During this festivity, traditionally, each family is to sacrifice one domestic animal like a sheep, goat, cow or camel. However, given today’s economy, the slaughtering of an animal is only expected of Muslim families who can afford this practice. The meat of the slaughtered animal is divided into three portions. The family eats one-third of the slaughtered animal, another third is given to relatives and friends, and the final third is given to poor or needed people as a gift.

On the day of Eid al-Adha, Muslims are dressed in their newest or best clothes. They go to their local mosques and attend morning prayers. This is followed by visits with family members and friends. Aside from exchanging traditional greetings, gifts are customarily exchanged. Charitable practices are common. Lasting for three days, Muslim seeks God’s mercy during this time.

Eid ul-Fitr

The other major Muslim holiday celebrated in a big way by Muslims worldwide is Eid ul-Fitr, which is known as the “Smaller Eid.” Others refer to this as “Meethi Eid” or “Sweet Eid” probably because of the abundance of sweet treats during this festivity.

Eid ul-Fitr comes at the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting observed by Muslims throughout the world. During the daylight hours of Ramadan, Muslims refrain from the following: eating, drinking, sex and even smoking. The day after Ramadan comes the three-day celebration of Eid ul-Fitr.

The exact date when a particular Muslim community celebrates Eid ul-Fitr usually differs depending on the location of that community. Why? Because Eid ul-Fitr’s date depends on when the start of the new moon is sighted. Confusion on the date when Eid ul-Fitr is to be observed is common. Many Muslims defer to Saudi Arabia’s announcement. This year, the UAE declared August 30, 2011 as Eid ul-Fitr. However, other Muslim communities celebrated it on the 31st of August. In the Philippines, it was a regular holiday that was celebrated on the 30th of August.

Eid ul-Fitr can be compared to the Christian celebration of Christmas or the Hindu Diwali Festival. Houses are decorated and gifts are prepared for loved ones. Muslims buy new clothes in anticipation of Eid ul-Fitr. During Chaand Raat, the eve of this celebration, people often go to shopping malls and bazaars for some last minute shopping. Women and young girls have their hands and sometimes their feet painted with Mehndi designs using henna (a type of dye). They wear colorful bangles and beautiful clothes.

People wake up early, often before sunrise for their pre-sunrise prayer. Because fast has been broken Muslims eat a small breakfast after bathing and cleaning one’s teeth (as prescribed by tradition). In their new (or best clothes) and sweet smelling perfume, Muslims attend special Eid prayers at their local prayer grounds. But before doing so, Muslims are obliged to give to the needy and the poor. This obligatory act of charity must be done before the Eid prayer. At the prayer grounds, there is the Eid prayer, a sermon by the Imam and supplication (asking for the God’s mercy, forgiveness, blessings and peace for every living being in the world). Upon leaving the prayer grounds, a different route should be taken different from the earlier route.

The womenfolk prepare different Eid delicacies for the whole family and their friends to feast on. Sweets are very popular during this holiday, as with the other Eid holiday. New clothes are the traditional gifts. Children often receive money from their elders. Visits to family and friends are practiced as well as visits to departed loved ones.

Muslims communities follow specific rituals, practices and prayers for both the Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. However, different Muslim communities may also inject their own practices and even forms of greetings. In the end, what is important is that the original intention and spirit of these two important festivities continue to thrive and reign in the hearts and minds of the faithful followers of Islam.

There is always some confusion as to when the Eids are celebrated only because they are based on the lunar calendar; and in the case of Eid ul-Fitr, on the sighting of the new moon.

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