Editor's Note: Rappler first published this piece in July 2014. Rappler is republishing it this year in line with the 2019 Eid al-Fitr.
MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – The Islamic celebration of Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the month-long Ramadan.
Eid al-Fitr, which means "Feast of the Breaking of the Fast," culminates the Muslim's practice of fasting during the Islamic holy month. Fasting on Ramadan is fourth in the 5 Pillars of Islam – mandatory acts to be observed in Muslim life.
The celebration also marks the start of Shawwal, the 10th month of their lunar calendar Hijri.
To Muslims all over the world, it is a joyous occasion marked by feasts and celebrations, all in thanksgiving to God in enabling the faithful to perform their religious duties and to foster unity among Islam’s faithful. (READ: The deeper meaning of Eid al-Fitr)
Let’s take a look at some facts regarding this sacred Muslim feast.
1. Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations.
The other Islamic celebration – Eid al-Adha – is celebrated on the 10th day of the last month of the Islamic calendar. It means “The Feast of the Sacrifice,” as it commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son to God. Eid al-Adha marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, the 5th Pillar of Islam.
2. It has alternative names.
Eid al-Fitr is also known as Eid al-Saghir (The Lesser Feast), while Eid al-Adha is being referred to as Eid al-Kabir (The Greater Feast).
Eid al-Fitr is also known in different names across the Muslim world. Among the Muslim communities of Southeast Asia, it is also known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Hari Raya Puasa. Hari Raya means “Celebration Day.”
3. It has no fixed date in the Western/Gregorian calendar.
The Islamic Hijri calendar bases its months on lunar cycles, as opposed to the Gregorian calendar that follows the solar cycles. An Islamic month begins with the first new moon following the sunset of the last day of the previous month. As a consequence, an Islamic Calendar does not follow seasonal changes and does not coincide with Gregorian calendar months every year.
Since it’s a lunar calendar, the Hijri calendar year is 11 or 12 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar year, and this retrogrades yearly. For example, the Islamic New Year in 2014 is on October 24. In 2015, it will be on October 13, and in 2016, October 1.
In terms of the Gregorian calendar, in 2014 for example, the celebration started in the evening of July 27, with Eid day on July 28. Taking the Hijri calendar’s retrograde into account, the next two years’ celebration would be around July 17 and 6 respectively. In 2018, it's celebrated on July 15. In 2019, it is June 5.
Graphic by Ivy Pangilinan/Rappler
4. Its date varies even within the Islamic community.
Since new moons don't occur at the same time all over the globe, various Muslim communities tend to have their own calculations and observation techniques to determine the date of this important feast.
Some traditional Islamic communities herald the beginning of an Islamic Month not with any first new moon, but with the physical sighting of the first crescent new moon. To them, the Eid al-Fitr begins with the actual sighting of a crescent new moon following the end of Ramadan.
There are other Muslim communities that use calculations in determining the beginning of Islamic months. In Saudi Arabia, for example, they use the Umm al-Qura calendar, a calculation of the Hijri calendar created by the Institute of Astronomical and Geophysical Research of the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.
5. It begins very early in the morning in communal prayer.
In keeping with the Sunnahs (teachings & practices of the Prophet Muhammad), the faithful start the feast day by bathing, wearing their finest clothes, putting on perfume and eating something sweet before going to a large mosque or a designated open prayer area with their families to start the day in prayer.
As per the second Pillar of Islam – Salat (prayer) – the congregation faces the direction of Mecca. Eid Prayers consist of two units called Rakats, with around 6 or 12 Takbirs, a ritual prayer that states that God is the greatest.
Following these prayers would be Khutbas (sermons) by the Imam. Usually, the sermons revolve around thanksgiving to God, historical background or significance of the celebration, forgiveness among neighbors, and their responsibilities to the third Pillar of Islam: Zakat (almsgiving).
Again, in keeping with the Sunnahs, the faithful ought to leave the prayer area in a route different from the one they took when going to the area.
6. Eid al-Fitr greetings follow the prayer service.
Following the communal prayer service, the congregation rejoices and greets each other with the traditional greetings of Eid Mubarak (Blessed Eid) or Eid Sa-id (Happy Eid). Greetings cards may also be exchanged between friends and family.
Depending on the locale, the greetings may not be in Arabic. In Malaysia for example, the faithful may greet each other with "Selamat Hari Raya" or "Selamat Hari Raya Aidalfitri," meaning “Happy Celebration Day (of Eid al-fitr)."
7. There is a special Zakat for Eid Al-Fitr called Zakat al-Fitr or Fitrana
On this day, Muslims are especially reminded of their obligations to the poor. If financially capable, Muslims are to give the poor or charity groups the ritual Fitrana donations, traditionally paid for by the head of the family in behalf of its members. Donations could also be in the form of basic necessities such as food and clothing.
Also in keeping with tradition, it is preferable to give Fitrana before the communal prayer service so that the poor can participate in the festivities.
8. It is a sweet, festive day for families.
Similar to the Christian Christmas feast, Eid day is a time of merriment, feasting, celebration, and the giving of Eidi (Eid gifts) among Muslims and their families. For most Muslims, the meal on this day is special, as it is their first daytime meal after a month of fasting during Ramadan.
Eid al-Fitr is also known as “the Sweet Eid” due to the many sweet foods traditionally served in the feast. For example, it is customary to break fast on sweet foods before heading to the Eid Services.
9. Eid al-Fitr is also celebrated the Philippines.
Eid al-Fitr in the Philippines is also known as Hari Raya Puasa. Filipino Muslims traditionally go back to their hometowns to celebrate the feast. For Muslims based in Manila, prominent services and celebrations are held in Quiapo’s Golden Mosque and around Rizal Park. – Rappler.com
TOP PHOTO: END OF RAMADAN. Eid al-Fitr celebration is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Photo taken at Blue Mosque Taguig. Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler
Sources: Muslim Festivals and Ceremonies, Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, Embassy of Saudi Arabia: The Five Pillars of Islam, Islamic Holidays and Observances, Introduction to the Hijri Calendar, Fiqh Council: Dates for Ramadan and Shawwal 1435, The Umm al-Qura Calendar, The Sunnahs of Eid al-Fitr, Islam Awareness: A detailed look at Eid, Eid al-Fitr all over the globe, Al-Huda News: Eid ul Fitr: Meaning and Purpose, Malaysia Hari Raya, Mindanao Festivals