Eid-ul-Fitr is a joyous festival that has both spiritual and social connotations. It arrives in the wake of the holy month of Ramadan and marks the end of fasting for Muslims seeking purification and salvation. From that point of view, the Crescent Moon that heralds the end of the month, brings with it spontaneous delight to members of the Muslim community. To the young and old, it is an occasion of incomparable joy and profound fellowship. This day is also greatly remembered for the large banquet of food that is normally prepared for this occasion. For Bangladeshis Eid ul Fitr is the most awaited public holiday.
Over the past few decades people of Bangladeshi origin have slowly spread all over the world. They have carried with them their socio-cultural-religious values to their current places of residence - be it in North America, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Australia or South-East Asia.
There are nearly two million people of Bangladeshi origin in Saudi Arabia, the birth place of Islam. Eid ul-Fitr is celebrated with great pomp in Saudi Arabia. Eid festivities in Saudi Arabia may vary culturally depending on the region, but one common thread in all celebrations is of generosity and hospitality. It is common Saudi tradition for families to gather at the patriarchal home after the Eid prayers. Expatriate Bangladeshis normally visit each other or convene communal functions where they dine together throughout Ramadan and then during Eid.
In Turkey, Eid-ul-Fitr is referred to as both "Bayram of Sweets" and "Ramadan Bayram". The entire three-day holiday period is infused with national traditions.
In Egypt, Eid al-Fitr starts with a small snack followed by Eid prayers in congregation where the sermon reminds Egyptians of the virtues and good deeds they should do unto others, even strangers, during Eid and throughout the year.
Despite all the current post-Arab Spring turmoil in Libya and Tunisia, local citizens as well as expatriates celebrate the occasion by making and giving special biscuits including Baklawa and several kinds of "kaák" to friends and relatives on the day. Consistent with the past, in Tunisia, there is usually dancing and music along with the feasting at night. In Libya, Eid is observed, but with care. This is due to security dimensions that have evolved after the fall of Qaddafi and the emergence of different militant factions.
In South Africa, particularly in Cape Town, thousands of Muslims, including expatriate Bangladeshis gather at Green Point in the evening of the last day of Ramadan each year for the sighting of the Moon. The number of Bangladeshis is beginning to grow in this country because of secondary migration from Iraq and countries located in the Arab Gulf. Many South African Muslims have started to visit Bangladeshi restaurants on this day to enjoy Bangladeshi cuisine, particularly spiced beef or mutton curry followed by traditional Bangladeshi sweets including 'halwa'.
The customs and rituals of Eid al-Fitr are quite similar across Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Southern Thailand- home presently to nearly 630,000 expatriate Bangladeshi workers.
In Indonesia, the occasion of Hari Raya Idul Fitri creates a distinctively festive atmosphere throughout the country, along with traffic mayhem. This occasion represents one of the largest temporary human migrations globally, as workers tend to return to their home town or city to celebrate with their families and to ask forgiveness from parents, in-laws, and other elders. Normally, about 30 million Indonesians undertake such a travel every year. This means that millions of cars and motorcycles jam the roads and highways, causing extensive traffic jams. As in other Muslim countries it is common for Muslims in Indonesia to visit the graves of loved ones on this day, clean the grave and recite Sura Ya-seen from the Quran.
In Malaysia, Eid is more commonly known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, meaning 'Celebration Day'. Muslims greet one another with "maaf zahir dan batin", which means "Forgive my physical and emotional (wrongdoings)". It is customary for Muslim Malaysians to wear a traditional shirt on Eid al-Fitr known as the Baju Melayu, along with a sarong known as kain samping or songket and a headwear known as songkok. During Eid it has now become tradition to arrange for special meals for expatriate workers, particularly in palm oil orchards.
Most Muslims in the United States offer their Eid prayer in big-city Islamic centres, convention halls or open parks. Muslims from different cultures with multi-national customs get together for prayers and celebrations. In some cities, prayers are held multiple times to accommodate the large number of attendees. Sometimes, Muslims reserve amusement parks, skating rinks or other activity centers for an entire day of fun. In New York City alternate side parking (street cleaning) regulations are suspended. Beginning in 2016, New York City Public Schools also remain closed on Eid day. The United States Postal Service (USPS) has issued several Eid postage stamps, across several years - starting in 2001 - honouring "two of the most important festivals in the Islamic calendar: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha."
Just as in the United States, most Canadian Muslims usually take a day off from work on Eid day. In the larger cities of Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa congregational prayers are held multiple times in big-city mosques or Islamic centres. Muslims normally not only visit each other's homes on the Eid day but also attend designated "open houses" in which everyone is welcome to visit. Muslims also donate money or contribute to their local food banks on this day for those who are less fortunate. According to new regulations students from Canadian schools may take 2-3 days off, because Eid is now recognised as a major holiday in the Islamic culture.
One can only conclude by saying that these common socio-cultural-religious factors, transports all Muslims for a brief while into another world filled with happiness and devoid of rancour.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to
information and good governance.
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