Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr: From fasting to feasting
RAMADAN and Eid al-Fitr are two important occasions in Muslim lives that begin and end with the appearance of the new moon.
In the Hijrah lunar calendar which Muslims follow, Ramadan is the ninth and considered the most blessed month of the year. It precedes the month of Sha’ban.
To mark the start of fasting, some religious leaders go out of their way for a moon sighting. The appearance of the new moon signals the first day of Ramadan and after completing 29 days of fasting on that night, the religious leaders set out for another moon sighting.
The appearance of the new moon signals the first day of the succeeding month of Shawwal, or the Eid al-Fitr.
On Tuesday, the new moon was not seen from various parts of the country. Hence, the Darul Ifta (Fatwah Council) declared Eid al-Fitr today, which ends 30 days of fasting.
Fasting is an act of Ibadah (worship) and one of the five pillars of Islam. Its basis is found in the Koran which reads: “Oh you who believe fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may attain Taqwa (God-Fearing).” This verse has two contexts to understand, first, that fasting is not exclusive to Muslims; it was already practiced by the Prophets before Muhammad.
The best example a Muslim can cite is the fasting followed by the Jewish tradition like that of Prophet Nabi Isa (Jesus Christ). Jesus fasted for 40 days and the significance of his act appeared to be a preparation for his ministry. In the same way, Muslims considered fasting as a spiritual training to attain Taqwah which is the second context of the verse. Taqwah is an Arabic term which means “piety.”
Muslims start fasting by sincere intention and abstaining from any kind of food or liquid from dawn (in the Philippines, the cutoff time for dawn meal is around 4 a.m. up to sunset or around 6:30 p.m.). Married couples must avoid intimate relations.
It is also desirable for a fasting person to refrain from mundane activities like playing video games, engaging in gossips and idle talk to becoming angry and impatient. Practically, a fasting person strives to overcome his ego and personal desires, and replace it with activities that merit rewards “thawab” like praying Sunnah (supererogatory), aiming to finish reading the entire Koran during Ramadan, giving out charity and taking care the needs of other people, especially the needy.
To some fasting Muslims, sleeping three to four hours a night is a normal routine as one spent Tahajjud prayer (midnight prayer) in addition to the Taraweh prayed in congregation after the Eisha or evening prayer. Toward the last 10 days of Ramadan, they increase their devotion by staying awake and reading the Koran in anticipation of the Laylatul Qadar (Night of Power).
Ramadan is full of sacrifices but most loved by the Muslims. They experience two occasions of joy—first, during the time of Iftar (breaking of the fast) when one completes his day of sacrifice and putting in control his personal desire over Ibadah (worship) and second, when the fasting person meets his Creator and eternally enjoy the reward of his good deeds in Jannah (paradise).
The observance of Ramadan is not all about abstaining from food and carnal desire during the day and lavish Iftar. It goes beyond the spiritual development of the person. The hunger he feels while fasting should enable him relate to the hunger felt by those who have less in life; hence, Muslims are reminded to increase their charity works during Ramadan.
Muslims are obliged to give “sadaqatul fitr,” a special charity for deserving recipients, which purifies one’s fasting from all imperfections. Ideally, the charity must be given out before the end of Eid al-Fitr prayer.
At the end of Ramadan, Muslims must give attention to its long-term effect in their desire to move closer to God. It is also timely to gauge the success of their spiritual training in the practice of patience, love, compassion, mercy and tolerance.
Eid al-Fitr is an occasion where Muslims give thanks to Allah for all the blessings they enjoyed during the entire month of fasting.
In the Philippines, there are many ways to celebrate the event. The shifting of mood from fasting to festivity is very evident even in ordinary Muslim households. Even the poorest Muslim family strives to prepare something which family members can share. Mothers cook special food and delicacies to offer to visitors and friends.
Some families prefer to go outing. They can be seen at Rizal Park, Mall of Asia and Quezon Memorial Circle.
Preparations also include a budget to buy new clothes for the children. Muslims love exchanging gifts. For the affluent families, the party is usually held with lavishness. Non-Muslim friends are invited as special guests.
Muslims are enjoined to visit friends and families. The Tausug people fondly call this visit “magjiyara,” in which one greets another with a tight hug and kisses on the checks three times. The younger kiss the hands of the elderly.
Sometimes, the magjiyara goes emotional, especially for those having differences, for the day is the best time to reconcile. Muslims are in the most forgiving mood.
For the children, there are different shades of fun. Some move from house to house waiting for coins to be tossed in the air. Others wrestle for their share; the more coins they get, the more fun.
Amid the festive mood today, Muslims should not close their eyes to the situations of others in various parts of the world. They can make a fervent dua (prayer) for peace so that the sufferings will soon cease. When this happens, Eid al-Fitr celebrations will truly be joyous.
(Editor’s Note: The author is the dean of the University of the Philippines-Institute of Islamic Studies.)
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