Celebrating Eid al-Fitr in Eritrea and Around the World
By Aklilu Lijam
(As part of our BTW stories)
For Muslims around the world, Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and prayer. It is one of the largest and most important celebrations in the Islamic calendar.
Ramadan is a Muslim religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, believed to be the month in which the Qur’an began to be revealed. Prophet Mohammed was spoken to by Allah on a date known as Laylat al- Qadr, or the Night of Power. Allah gave Mohammed the teachings of the Qur’an and set him on his path to becoming a prophet and the founder of the Islamic faith.
Ramadan is a time when Muslims slowdown from worldly affairs and focus on self-reformation, spiritual cleansing and enlightenment, establishing a link between God Almighty and themselves by prayer, supplication, charity, good deeds, kindness and helping others.
At the end of the fasting month, this religious occasion is celebrated in the presence of family and friends with an innumerable of color and mouth–watering traditional foods. In many countries, this “Festival of Breaking the Fast” lasts for three days and is marked by Muslim communities coming together to honor this religious occasion. Eid al Fitr translates as “Festival of Breaking the Fast.” It is sometimes referred to as the “little” or “smaller Eid,” whereas Eid al Adha is called the “greater” or “big Eid.”
In Eritrea, whether it is the smaller Eid or the greater Eid and like all other festivals it is always celebrated in colorful manner. One of the unique things about Eritrea that you don’t find in many countries is that Eritrea is gracefully gifted with a very rich cultural capital, the result of its ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity. Taking diversity as a source of strength and beauty, the people of Eritrea give priority to unity. This unity is especially demonstrated during the religious festivities whether it’s Eids or Easters.
We Eritreans eat together no matter where we are from or what we believe in. It is a testament to the close knit society Eritreans display everywhere in the world. Fasting, whether it is Xom (Tsome) or Ramadan, is done to further foster love, peace and unity among us. As one senior citizen said: In Eritrea, when we fast we fast together and when we celebrate we celebrate together”.
When I was a kid, I used to love Ramadan for during the month of Ramadan our daily supply of dates, pastry and other sweet meals was assured. A feast for the eyes and a treat for the belly! I remember, during this month, I used to love going to my auntie’s (Amoy’s) house and bring a lot of the pastries.
During Ramadan the Shuk (market place) would be busy with street vendors selling their sweet scented merchandize displayed on a long table for all to see and smell. My friends from the elementary school and I used to love visiting this market place often. The air was filled with all kinds of sweet scents coming from the appealing pastries displayed in the long tables.
The street vendors would shout Feturek Yaassaaiimm! Meaning “Eat with enjoyment O thou who are fasting”. They would say the names of the pastries out loud: Sambusa, Meshebekh, Taamiya and Mekhlil and then continue shouting – buy now while supplies last! We really use to enjoy the show, the smell, the chanting from the nearby Mosque, the hustle and bustle of the people, bicycles, wheelbarrows, taxis, etc. We toured the food sites with our small allowance, we bought some pastry and ate them on the spot. It will never come to our mind taking them home as we have to always be careful that our parents do not know we have been visiting the market place instead of studying and doing our homework. I still have a great nostalgia of the beautiful scene at the Shuk as I am sure also do my elementary school friends. The good old days!
Eid al Fitr is a joyous occasion. People dress up nicely, often wear new clothes, and celebrate together with family members and friends. In general, there are some common elements of how the Eid al-Fitr is celebrated worldwide. It naturally involves great food—and lots of it! Family get together, giving charity on this occasion – this tradition is called Zakat al-Fitr, and special prayers asking Allah for peace and blessings for all people around the world.
Although the celebration has some common elements it however varies from country to country how its celebrated traditionally. Let’s discover how this holy occasion is observed in four very different countries. Fasten your seat belts!
Egypt: In Egypt, Eid al–Fitr celebrations are marked by the cheerful spirit of visiting older family members after morning prayers at the mosque. Often, elders give a small token of money to the younger ones in the family.
With family get–togethers being the focus of the festivities, many Egyptians flock to public gardens and zoos to celebrate the occasion. Giza Zoo is one of the most popular locations for families, with the zoo planning ahead of Eid al-Fitr celebrations to welcome masses of families who come to view the animals and more importantly, spend well–earned time with each other.
Turkey: Turkish Eid al–Fitr celebrations last for three days and is known as Ramazan Bayrami (Ramadan festival) or Seker Bayrami (festivals of sweets). With Muslims making up close to 98% of the population in Turkey, many families travel to different provinces to visit relatives during the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
It is of utmost importance to honour elderly citizens by kissing their right hand and placing it on one’s forehead all the while conveying the Bayram greetings. It is also important for young children to go from door to door around their neighborhood, wishing everyone a “Happy Bayram,” for which they are rewarded with candy, traditional sweets such as baklava and Turkish Delight, chocolates, or a small amount of money at every door, similar to the custom of Halloween in the United States.
Singapore: On the sunny island of Singapore, one of the highlights of the Eid al–Fitr celebrations is the explosion of colors lighting up the Geylang Serai area. One of Singapore’s oldest Malay settlements, Geylang Serai has been the center of Eid al–Fitr celebrations for Muslims living in Singapore. A spectacular display of lights illuminates the streets of Geylang Serai each year. I’ve heard these displays can feature over 50 different types of light and visual installations, all depicting a kaleidoscope of lively color. By the way, Singapore is among the 20 smallest countries in the world with a total land area of only 682.7 square kilometers. The United States is about 15,000 times bigger. Singapore is considered to be the only city, state and Island in the world.
Iceland: The celebration of Eid al–Fitr in Iceland is by far the most unique on this list. That said, while the community is certainly growing, Muslims still remain a minority of the Icelandic population.
Leading up to the celebration Eid al–Fitr, Muslims in Iceland participate in the dusk–to–dawn fast during Ramadan. In the peak of summer, the sun remains up in the sky for a longer time than usual, the sun setting at midnight and returning two hours later. This means that Muslims living in Iceland are required to fast up to 22 hours a day. While this sounds like a very challenging feat, Islamic scholars and experts have offered an alternative to those who live in the land of the midnight sun. Icelandic Muslims can choose to break their fast based on the timings of sunrise and sunset from the nearest country, or observe Saudi Arabia’s time zone.
Eid al–Fitr is celebrated in one of the few mosques in Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. Guests who visit the mosque come armed with an international buffet of appealing foods, including foods from Indonesian, Egyptian and Eritrean cuisines to celebrate this holy and joyous occasion. Did you read Eritrean cuisine? Yes, you read that right! it’s wonderful to know that Eritrean cuisine is being served in Icelandic Eid festivals but it may need further research to know how and when this started happening. Is it possible there may be several Eritrean Muslims living in Iceland?
Most Muslims celebrate Eid in the same traditional sense but of course, cultural traditions and practices for the occasion may differ from East to West and from one country to another. Amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, let us hope we can leave behind these challenging times together for a period of happiness, compassion, and peace. Eid Mubarak!
Simon Woldemichael; 04/22/2022, Eritrea: Unity in Diversity.