Summary: an Islamic festival that celebrates the end of Ramadan
2018 Date: 15th June (starting at sunset on 14th June)
Celebrated by: Muslims
Background and Theological Significance
Eid al-Fitr (in Arabic, عيد الفطر) is one of the most important festivals in the Islamic calendar. Literally translating as ‘the feast of the breaking of the fast’, Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the month of Ramadan and the ritual fast performed during it. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and is considered the holiest of all because it commemorates the revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammed. During Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours and devote themselves to prayer and charitable works. Eid al-Fitr is the first day of Shawwal, the tenth month, and celebrates the end of the fast. It is a time to give thanks to Allah for his blessings, and to reflect on the fruits that the self-discipline of Ramadan has brought.
Eid al-Fitr is considered to be one of the two major Islamic festivals; the other being Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. Eid al-Fitr is the only day during the month of Shawwal when fasting is specifically forbidden. This relates to the strong communal spirituality that resonates throughout the celebration, as it is considered by Muslims to be a time for fellowship, alms-giving and shared worship. Eid al-Fitr is a joyful time that celebrates the blessings of Allah and seeks to honour them throughout the entire year.
It is believed that the festival of Eid al-Fitr was established by the Prophet Muhammed himself. In some traditions, when Muhammed journeyed from Mecca to Medina he found the local people celebrating two days each year with fun and entertainment. He declared that Allah had ordained two better days for such annual celebrations: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Fitr has been observed by Muslims ever since, as a time to celebrate the culmination of Ramadan and the blessings that Allah bestows upon his people.
The Islamic calendar is divided into twelve lunar months, each of which starts when the new crescent moon is sighted by the local religious authorities. This means that the exact day of Eid al-Fitr in any given year will vary slightly depending on the location. Due to the Islamic calendar being lunar rather than solar, the first day of the month of Shawwal changes each year in reference to the Gregorian calendar by at least ten days.
Eid al-Fitr starts at sunset on the day of the first sighting of the new crescent moon (‘hilal’), which marks the start of the tenth Islamic month Shawwal. The celebration typically lasts for between one and three days depending on the local custom. It is traditional for Muslims to greet people with the salutation ‘Eid Mubarak’, which means ‘blessed celebration’, and is used only on the two great festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.
The observance of the month-long fast of Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam (along with faith, prayer, charity and the Hajj), during which Muslims abstain from food during daylight hours, and strive to live a purer and holier lifestyle. Eid al-Fitr celebrates the end of this month of fasting and is a time for joy and fellowship. Muslims will usually rise early on the day to recite a special set of prayers called the ‘Salat al-Eid’, which are reserved for this festival. They will then gather in mosques or open spaces for a prayer service before joining together with families and communities to share their first daylight meal in a month. It is also traditional to make a charitable donation called the ‘Zakat al-Fitr’ as a way of celebrating the festival and its sense of shared community. Eid al-Fitr draws together several different strands of Islamic thought and practice, including the revelation of the Qur’an, the end of the fast of Ramadan, and the shared sense of community that is central to the faith. It is a time for Muslims to celebrate their communal identity with joy, fellowship and prayer.