Eid ul-Fitr came last week in the midst of a deadly second wave of Covid-19 in India. This was the second Eid during this pandemic.
When directly translated, Eid translates to “the festival of breaking the fast”, pious Muslims say that the better translation is “opening the fast”. Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the month in which the Holy Qur’an was first revealed to Prophet Mohammad. Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims, is a month of fasting and prayer.
The opening of the fast during Ramadan, or ‘Iftar’ is special and Iftar dinners are hosted for small or large groups of friends. My husband and I hosted our first Iftar dinner when posted in Islamabad. We invited several friends to our Iftar dinner. As per tradition, we arranged dates and glasses of water, followed by Sherbet, and a feast of Indian delicacies. After the traditional opening of the fast, our friends wanted to pray. We quickly arranged it by spreading a white sheet on a carpet in a quiet room. It was a memorable evening.
After a month of sacrifice and dedication, Eid ul-Fitr is a time when families and loved ones come together. Eid does not always fall on the same day of the western calendar, as it follows the lunar calendar. Traditionally, the festival of Eid starts at sunset on the night of the first sighting of the crescent moon. If, for some reason, the moon is not observed, it is celebrated the following day. Thus, Eid is often celebrated on different dates across the world and sometimes even within the same country. As an obligatory act of charity, money is paid to the poor and the needy (Zakat-ul-fitr) before performing the Eid prayer. Often zakat is given in advance, so that the poor who receive it can celebrate the festival. On the day of Eid, Muslims perform the traditional Eid prayers in a congregation and visit their relatives, friends, and acquaintances or hold large communal celebrations in homes, community centers, or rented halls. There are some interesting celebrations in parts of the world. In Afghanistan, for example, some people have a tradition of fighting with painted hard boiled eggs. The effort is to break the other person’s egg without allowing one's own to be broken.
Every Eid celebration has plenty of sweets for everyone. Different sweets are cooked and consumed in different parts of the world. In India, the vermicelli or Sewain symbolises Eid celebrations. Sewain or Sewaiyan are either cooked deliciously with milk and sugar, or roasted in ghee (clarified butter) and sugar. The dry version is a particular delicacy and my absolute favourite.
This year, Eid has come at a time of enormous suffering caused by the devastating second wave of Covid in India. We used the occasion to wish our Muslim friends happiness and good health. Invariably, the response was that they were not really in a celebratory mood. With all that is happening around us, the joy of Eid has been robbed by this pandemic along with so many precious lives.
As the number of daily coronavirus cases in India hit record highs, Muslims in several parts of the country have turned mosques and madrassas (Islamic schools) into Covid-19 care facilities to aid patients. Amid shortages of oxygen and infrastructure, several Muslim organizations came forward to help people struggling with infection.
There are many reports from various parts of India. In Gujarat, administrators running a Darul Uloom, or Islamic seminary, in the city of Vadodara created a Covid care facility consisting of oxygen fitted beds and isolation wards within the campus. A part of a mosque in Vadodara has also been converted into a Covid facility, for which doctors have been hired. The centre has been equipped with oxygen. In New Delhi, a number of isolation centers for patients have been set up. A relief task force with a control room with 30 people working is also operational around the clock to help the patients in Delhi. Several individuals have come up for praise. In Maharashtra, a resident, has been lauded on social media as his foundation has been at the forefront of providing help to Covid-positive patients, while a transport company owner has been using his resources to transport oxygen to Nagpur from various parts of India.
These challenging times are testing us, but human beings are coming together to fight this adversity.