Happy Eid al-Fitr to all my Muslim friends! Eid Mubarak! The fast is over! Y’all are magic! TIME TO PARTY!
On NPR earlier this week, I heard some state representative from somewhere talking about people of varying religions and he listed nouns for basically every Christian denomination — “Catholics” and “Episcopalians” and “Lutherans” and so on — and then paused, and you could hear this dude thinking about it, and finally he offered up “Islamic.” Not “Muslim,” but “Islamic,” which is not only grammatically incorrect in terms of how he was listing religious groups but also, you know, not what people who are fond of Islam call themselves! We’re Muslims! It’s not that hard! (This is not as bad as Roseanne, but still.)
In light of that, yet another example of not necessarily ill-meaning but still present everyday American ignorance regarding Islam, I was inspired to write this post. I’mma break down Eid al-Fitr for you, so get ready for some knowledge.
Perhaps you have some Muslim friends, or perhaps you don’t (uh, get some), and so maybe you know about Ramadan, or maybe you don’t. So hey, time to learn something! The general gist is this: Every year for about a month practicing Muslim adults (although you don’t have to if you’re ill, elderly, or pregnant, among other things) are expected to fast from sunrise to sunset. If you’re particularly faithful, it doesn’t matter how the fast affects, for example, your job. You do it. Like UFC fighter Belal Muhammad, who was training for a fight during Ramadan — so, sparring and exercising for hours without any food — and still won his bout on June 1. Yay, Belal!
Anyway! Because the Muslim calendar is lunar, the time when Ramadan is observed changes year to year. This year, in the U.S., Ramadan began on May 16 and ends today, June 15. For that span of time, Muslims are supposed to abstain from eating or drinking, lying, fighting, or having sex. They’re supposed to think about their relationship with their faith, offer more charity and good deeds, and basically be the best person they can be.
Ramadan-related cultural traditions may vary from country to country and region to region. Some people may choose not to fast, but perhaps increase their community service and charity. I remember as a child watching my mother come home from 12-hour shifts as a labor-and-delivery nurse to break her fast with simple water and bread and then perform namāz, or praying toward Mecca, every night. The chādor she wore and the Quran she prayed with were treasured heirlooms from her own mother in Iran, and she’s used them this past month during Ramadan, too. I don’t fast, but I try to be a better person during this month — kinder to others, more empathetic, more giving.
When the month of Ramadan is over, it’s time to get down with Eid al-Fitr, which has its own set of rituals. Families gather together, recite the takbīr prayer, watch the crescent moon rise, wear new clothes and look their best, give gifts, celebrate with sweets (umm, bring on the date cookies prepared by the Palestinian woman in the header picture, or baklava, sweetened vermicelli noodles, and rosewater falooda!), and give to the needy with Zakat al-fitr, which is a requirement. (Being charitable is a serious component of Ramadan, and that’s why I personally focus more on that aspect.) Maybe families will have a picnic, enjoy a day out together at the zoo or at the park, gather together in the kitchen to prepare the fast-breaking meal together, apply henna, have an open house, or participate in a secret gift exchange. Honestly, I’ve always understood Eid al-Fitr to be about togetherness, whatever form that takes.
And so! Happy Eid al-Fitr! And let me just leave you with this, one of my favorite Islamic things in all of pop culture:
“My mother is an ordained minister, I’m a Muslim. She didn’t do backflips when I called her to tell her I converted 17 years ago. But I tell you now, we put things to the side, I’m able to see her, she’s able to see me, we love each other, the love has grown.”
I’m not crying, you’re crying.