How Is Eid Al-Fitr Celebrated in Islam?

Observing the End of the Fast of Ramadan

Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan
Dondi Tawatao/Stringer/Getty Images News

Eid al-Fitr or the "Festival of Breaking the Fast" is one of the most celebrated of all Muslim holidays, observed by 1.6 million Muslims around the world. During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims observe a strict fast and participate in pious activities such as charitable giving and peace-making. It is a time of intense spiritual renewal for those who observe it. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims throughout the world break their fast and celebrate their accomplishments in Eid al-Fitr.

When to Celebrate Eid al-Fitr

Eid al-Fitr falls on the first day of the month of Shawwal, which means "To Be Light and Vigorous" or "Lift or Carry" in Arabic. Shawwal is the name of the month which follows Ramadan in the Islamic calendar.

The Islamic or Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar, based on the movements of the moon rather than the sun. Lunar years have a total of 354 days, compared to solar years which have 365.25 days. Each of twelve lunar months has 29 or 30 days, beginning when the crescent moon appears in the sky. Because the year loses 11 days with respect to the Gregorian solar calendar, the month of Ramadan shifts forward 11 days each year, as does Eid al-Fitr. Each year, Eid al-Fitr falls about 11 days earlier than the previous year. 

Some scholars believe that the first Eid al-Fitr was celebrated in the year 624 CE by the Prophet Mohammad and his followers after a decisive victory at the battle of Jang-e-Badr.

The celebration itself is not directly linked to any specific historical events but is rather a breaking of fast.

The Meaning of Eid al-Fitr

Eid al-Fitr is a time for Muslims to give in charity to those in need and to celebrate with family and friends the completion of a month of blessings and joy. Unlike other Islamic holidays, Eid al-Fitr is not tied to specific historical events but is a general celebration of fellowship with one's local community.

In contrast to the devoted calm of the rest of the Ramadan observance, Eid al-Fitr is marked by joyful happiness at having been released from religious obligation and forgiven for sins. Once the celebration begins, it may continue for up to three days. This is a time for Muslim families to share their good fortune with others. 

How Eid al-Fitr Is Observed

Before the first day of Eid, during the last few days of Ramadan, each Muslim family gives a traditionally-defined amount as a donation to the poor. This donation is typically food rather than money—rice, barley, dates, rice, and more—to ensure that the needy are able to enjoy a nourishing holiday meal and participate in the celebration. Known as sadaqah al-fitr or Zakat al-Fitr (charity of fast-breaking), the amount of the alms to be paid was set by the Prophet Muhammad himself, as equal to one measure (sa'a) of grain per person.

On the first day of Eid, Muslims gather early in the morning in large outdoor locations or mosques to perform the Eid prayer. This consists of a sermon followed by a short congregational prayer. The exact pattern and number of segments of the prayer are specific to the branch of Islam, although Eid is the only day in the month of Shawwal during which Muslims are not allowed to fast.

Family Celebrations

After the Eid prayer, Muslims usually disperse to visit various family and friends, give gifts (especially to children), make visits to graveyards, and make phone calls to distant relatives to give well-wishes for the holiday. Common greetings used during Eid are "Eid Mubarak!"("Blessed Eid!") and "Eid Saeed!"("Happy Eid!").

These activities traditionally continue for three days. In most Muslim countries, the entire three-day period is an official government/school holiday. During Eid, families may string up lights, or place candles or lanterns around the house. Brightly colored banners are sometimes hung. Family members may wear traditional clothing or may give one another new clothing in order that everyone may look their best.

Many Muslims call the holiday Sweet Eid, and special foods, especially sweet treats, may be served.

Some traditional Eid fare includes date-filled pastries, butter cookies with almonds or pine nuts, and spice cake.

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Huda. "How Is Eid Al-Fitr Celebrated in Islam?" ThoughtCo, May. 3, 2018, thoughtco.com/how-eid-al-fitr-is-celebrated-2004613. Huda. (2018, May 3). How Is Eid Al-Fitr Celebrated in Islam? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-eid-al-fitr-is-celebrated-2004613 Huda. "How Is Eid Al-Fitr Celebrated in Islam?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-eid-al-fitr-is-celebrated-2004613 (accessed May 23, 2018).