Eid — Physical Ritual, Mental Reboot
I’ve been asked many a times, “When is Eid, this time?”
First of all, Muslims celebrate multiple Eids.
And the word “Eid” means “Feast”. The most popularly known Eid is the Eid-ul-Fitr — ‘Fitr’ means to break, signifying the end of a month of fasting. The next one is Eid-ul-Adha — ‘Adha’ means to sacrifice, signifying the sacrifice of Prophet Abraham to keep God’s wish. Next, the birth of Prophet Mohammed is celebrated as Eid-Milad-Un-Nabi — ‘Milad’ meaning birthday and ‘Nabi’ meaning prophet.
This piece of mine is about answering the question about the most popular variant outlined above — Eid-ul-Fitr. The answer to this requires some context, so let me begin. Muslims have had a history of disagreements over bloodlines leading to sub-groups of followers, be it the relatively more known Shia/Sunni division, or it’s further sub-sects — I happen to be a “Bohri” muslim of the Shia sub-division. But one thing they collectively agree about is the auspiciousness of the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, the holy month of Ramzan — in which Allah revealed the Quran to Prophet Muhammad to guide true believers on their righteous path.
You may also have heard it pronounced as “Ramadan” following it’s original Arabic origin, unlike the Urdu variant with the z-sound which most of the Indian subcontinent follow.
So, Eid is the day of celebration after a month-long dawn-to-dusk abstinence during Ramzaan, with no water or food in between — only you and God.
Note that I use the word abstinence, which is much more than just fasting — it’s not only about the physical aspects of refraining from food and water, but also the mental rigour required to keep your mind devoid of any distracting or sinful thoughts and activities in general. It is also about keeping yourself focused on doing good to society and practicing self-accountability. The mental cleansing and blooming becomes the byproduct of the physical abstaining.
At least that’s what the intentions are, to spend the entire days devoted to God and the hereafter, and less on worldly desires and activities. Admittedly, this becomes a tough balance in the modern world with the regularity of “worldly” tasks and entertainment (read: distractions) literally available at the palms of your hands, but we try to manage.
So, why do Muslims fast?
The sustained fasts of Ramzaan do not aim to imprint thirst, hunger and deprivation on the believers. Instead, they seek to furnish their soul’s life force. It is this spirit — the “ruḥ” — which God breathed into us, transfiguring us from composted clay into creatures of fair form and glimmering soul, that the world stifles. Ramzaan is the mechanism to galvanize that life force. It burns away worldly obstruction, diversion, and indulgence so we can re-center our lives and focus our minds on our first-order existence. It helps us to breathe with the remembrance of God again and to lift up the praises of the One who created us.
Coming back to the initial question, Eid thus comes at the end of the month of Ramzan. Amidst the complexities of the Muslim divisions I mentioned earlier, even the calculation of what’s a month can differ. Though the Islamic calendar is different from the English one, since it is based on the lunar cycle, some Muslims base the calendar days on astronomical sightings of the moon, while others base it on arithmetic calculations — still based on the moon, but hybrid with the touch of certainty as opposed to probability. The Bohris fall into the latter and we do not look for the moon to be sighted to proclaim “Hey, it’s Eid!”.
Therefore, the “when” of Eid can be subjective, but to generalize it will always remain at the end of the month of Ramzan. That’s the constant.
As I had mentioned before, I’ve been asked many a times, “When is Eid, this time?”
So, while the palpable excitement of waiting for its glimpse eludes us Bohris and others who follow the arithmetic lunar calendar, we are always certain of when Eid and other such religious events are. It sure helps me plan my office leaves with bulls-eye confidence.
Which also reminds me that my current Eid vacation is about to end, and with a renewed sense of self-confidence and belief I will head back soon to work and worldly affairs. Until next Eid, when the cycle restarts.