REFLECTIONS — By Dr Rajan Philips — We are in the midst of yet another festive occasion with the Eid al Fitr holidays bringing great cheer and joy. Each such special occasion has a specific purpose and observing it in the true spirit adds substance to the festivities.
A festival is celebrated collectively by a community that shares common religious, social or cultural roots. That keeps alive the cultural and religious heritage and reinforces bonds of oneness. In multi cultural and religious nations these festivals promote communal harmony, social good will and understanding.
National festivals like Independence Days foster solidarity and patriotic spirit among the citizens. Global sports extravaganzas like the recently held London Olympics 2012 bring together the youth of the world and build bridges of international amity and goodwill.
Children are the ones who look forward most to these festivals and revel without a care, enjoying new and resplendent clothes, sweet delicacies and gifts.
There is also a psychological angle. Festivals provide the much required and well deserved break from hectic work schedule and stressful modern lifestyle.
Equally vital is the opportunity afforded for a happy get-together of the extended family. This has become particularly essential since nuclear and small families have become. Apart from a wedding or a funeral of dear one, family gatherings have become rare occurrences.
Coming to the significance of Eid al Fitr, it celebrates the conclusion of the 29 or 30 days of rigorous dawn-to-sunset fasting during Ramadhan.
Religious scholars feel the day is not to be taken as a departure from the month-long spiritual voyage but a celebratory extension to it. That is why the highlight of the first day is a special congregational prayer (salat) generally offered in an open field or large hall or a mosque. For instance in the Indian sub-continent the Eid prayer is held in a vast open space known as Eid gah (Eid village) that brings together several thousands of worshippers. The prayer is followed by the sermon and then a supplication asking for God's forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings. Even complete strangers have no problem greeting one another with warmth and wishing each other Eid Mubarak.
Significantly, the believers are expected to have paid the ‘zakat’ (obligatory contribution towards charity) before attending the Eid prayers. The breakfast before the main prayers is also usually a small and simple affair.
It is only after the prayers that Muslims visit their relatives, friends and acquaintances or hold large communal celebrations and feasts. But the joy of partaking of such large and delicious meals is not complete unless a genuine effort is made to ensure that nobody in the neighbourhood goes hungry.
There is a tradition in some countries for those relatively well off to go and buy large quantities of rice and other food items and then discreetly leave them at the doorsteps of those who are less-fortunate.
Obviously, the real purpose of Eid al Fitr is deeper than mere celebrations and relaxation. It is an occasion to reflect on the spiritual gains attained during the month of Ramadhan: fasting, revelation of The Quran, and Laylatul Qadr etc.
Thus briefly, Eid al Fitr is a day of devotion and charity, thanksgiving , remembrance, victory, forgiveness and above all of peace in the world.
It is when we realise the real purpose and observe a festival in the true spirit that we and those around us derive all the rewards and blessings associated with the celebration. May this holiday help us do so.
Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey!
— Barbara Hoffman