Eid celebrated Thursday throughout East & West

A student reflects on the timing of Eid and its traditions, festivities and donations

Fathima Cader, ArtSci '07
Fathima Cader, ArtSci '07

Thursday or Friday? Oh, the controversy, the late night debating, the bated breaths and unexpected sunrise wakings. As it is with most Eids, the question of “when?” was imperative.

In the Islamic understanding of time, a day begins at sunset, so that what would normally be known as the night before Eid actually is the night of Eid, and this particular Eid night found me staring disconsolately at my laptop screen. Eid—short for Eid Al Fitr—is a celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.

The agenda that I bought in August informed me that “Eid Al Fitr” would be on Friday, Nov. 4, and this put me in the awkward position of having to write about my Eid before it began. Or having to write about Eids past, which meant having to confess that my Eids have always consisted mostly of sleeping in the afternoon.

And then, in the eleventh hour—quite literally, since I received word at 11:30 p.m.—it was decided by the Islamic Society of North America, which both Queen’s University Muslim Students’ Association and the Islamic Society of Kingston follow, that Eid would be on Thursday.

Why the change? Since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, Eid is always marked by the sight of the new moon. There are, however, two schools of thought on the issue of this sighting. One asserts that when the moon is sighted in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, all Muslims across the world should celebrate Eid together. It had been determined early on that Eid would be occurring in Mecca on Thursday. The other school holds that Muslims should follow the moon sighting of the area in which they are living. According to this school, Muslims in North America would be celebrating Eid on Friday, as this was when the moon was expected to be seen.

But Eid nights are characterised by watchful eyes searching the sky for that elusive, capricious moon. And late this particular Eid night we were informed, to our surprise, that the moon had been sighted in North America on Thursday—Wednesday night by the Gregorian calendar.

This is an old debate, this question of the moon sighting, and is one about as old as Islam itself. In high school this meant half the Muslim students would skip school on one day and the other half on the other day, both lamenting the disagreement, amicable though it was.

It is a rare Eid when everyone agrees, when the streets are uniformly filled with dressed-up Muslims creating traffic jams as everyone heads off at exactly the same time to the mosque for Eid prayer. So the celebrations, being celebrated by twice the number of people, should hopefully be twice as festive. Certainly, I intend to do my traditional Eid sleeping twice as joyfully.

But as I write this at 2 a.m. I am preparing myself for a night of no sleep. Instead, there will be one-line emails sent out, and MSN names attesting to the Eid date, and IMs full of hideously yellow smileys and innumerable exclamation points.

And then tomorrow morning, at around sunrise, when the house is still shadowy both inside and out, there will be a rush to get showered, dressed, and prettied-up in time for the 8 a.m. bus to the Islamic Society of Kingston for Eid prayers and the takbeerat, which is something like a hymn that Muslims chant on Eid mornings. All of this will be over by 10 a.m., and then the day will be free for general celebrating and merry-making—and, in my case, sleeping.

After a month of fasting, it might appear to the outsider that in Eid, Muslims totally reject the asceticism of Ramadan. For on Eid there is an abundance of pretty clothes and fragrant foods and noisy parties, but one of the requirements of Eid is that charitable donations be given before the Eid prayer. In fact, Eids are invalidated if these donations—known as Zakatul Fitr—are not given, for Eid, in its very celebration, is an act of worship.

But on Eid, as on every day, the world rolls on in joy and tragedy. This Eid, as on every Eid, tragedies abound, from the earthquake in Kashmir to the hurricanes in the U.S., to the continued aftermath of the Asian tsunami of eleven months ago.

In addition to the Zakatul Fitr, optional donations known as Sadaqatul Fitr are also made. It is often the littlest children who toddle up to the mosques’ donation boxes on Eid mornings to deposit the money their parents hand them. In deference to that generosity and as a way of accentuating, rather than undermining, the Eid celebration, I’m going to end with a request that everyone, even those untouched by Eid, save a life or two by giving a couple of dollars in charity.

Sometimes that’s all it takes.

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