With the birth of a new moon marking Shawwal, the tenth month in the Islamic calendar, the time for Ramadan has waxed and waned, and it is now the holiday of Eid ul-Fitr or Celebration of the Feast. The words themselves conjure scenes of joy and festivity, with tables adorned with aromatic, mouthwatering treats and animated by a carousel of loved ones. These scenes are what many aspire to make a reality in their own Eid celebrations, as they comprise some of the most treasured moments of family, community, and giving thanks in Muslim life.
However, is this all Eid is? Is it the jovial scenes of our collective imaginings? A holiday of feasts does make sense following a month of fasting, but surely there is more to be sought, as every event ought to be an opportunity to grow for the believer.
Modernity’s Incongruent Hyper Focus on Eid
When Ramadan ends and Eid begins, the abrupt switch is not only eating in daylight but in the general pace of time, which leaves many Muslims grappling between feelings of nostalgia, even sadness, for the beauties of the month of patience, cultivation, and sacrifice, and their other feelings of wanting to revel in the joys of a holiday sanctified by God for celebration.
The first day of Eid proceeds similarly for Muslims around the world; it begins with communal prayer and ends with gatherings over food with loved ones. Somewhere in the middle, though, there is always a lull, a break in day’s events- both jilting in its disruptive form and predictable in its cause. More consequential than sleepiness or overindulgence, and their consequence of making time move slowly, is how the two different modes of life (Ramadan and post-Ramadan, starting with Eid) transpose on one another. The incongruence of the situation leaves one somewhat jaded, left to ruminate on the differences, their purposes, and ensuing results.
Sensations of incongruence have perhaps never been as apparent than in modern times, a time unique with its obsession to control, manipulate, and bend (ultimately neutralizing) nature to the will of man. Islam encourages intentional living and modernity measures that intention with purely material terms. Haggag Ali, in Mapping the Secular Mind: Modernity’s Quest for a Godless Utopia, describes the parameters by which success and failure are defined in the post-Enlightenment period:
These standards can be seen as a typical representation of the myth of Prometheus, which celebrates the self-sufficiency of human power and the urging drive to place man at the center of the universe, signaling his ability to discover the laws of Nature and his determination to achieve progress without any reference to teleological or metaphysical terms.
Contrarily, Ramadan is a time during which God as the purpose for building up the dexterity to live intentionally and with control is most clearly established. Where Ramadan serves as a test tube for life, Eid is the looking glass the Muslim uses to compare the results of the month-long experiment to the grueling forces of the real-world. Whereas Ramadan is a controlled surrender (an intentional oxymoron) to the Divine, Eid is a festive transition back to mundanity – ordinary life which, for the aspiring Muslim, is in a constant, but not fully mundane, search for improvement and actualization. The mundane, or profane, world is one engulfed in fixation on worldly distraction, and crucial moments of reflection are rare. On Eid, the Muslim is situated in the center of the conversion of time from one period to another; indeed, the Muslim himself is both subject and observer to this conversion.
Eid as a Looking Glass
Beyond gatherings and dining, straddling the sacred and the mundane, the Muslim on Eid is presented with a golden opportunity for reflection and evaluation. Having endured the sweet yet heavy trials of Ramadan, the Muslim thereafter is meant to avoid bad habits. With the Ramadan state of mind still fresh in psyche and practice, the Muslim positions himself to receive Eid as a filter to separate the darkness and obscenity of the world and know from spiritual and lived experience what it can and ought to be. It is, as every other event or undertaking for the Muslim, a circumambulation around and towards the Divine.
Eid ul-Fitr is distinct from most other holidays, as one marking not a historic figure or event but one who exists solely because of Divine decree. Such a holiday, even with its festivities, is an existential affront to the modern order, which, as the late Zygmunt Bauman reminded us:
… rebuffed the obsession with the afterlife, focused on the life ‘here and now,’ redeployed life activities around different narratives with earthly targets and values, and all-in-all attempted to defuse the horror of death.²
Eid, then, is in both form and substance designed to be transformational. It is as much about joyous celebration and the cementing of social ties as it is a very intimate, reflexive endeavor to stave off temptations to be consumed by the ordinary.
- Ali, Haggag. Mapping the Secular Mind: Modernity’s Quest for a Godless Utopia. The International Institute of Islamic Thought: London, 2013; 40.
- Bauman, Zygmunt. Postmodernity and its Discontents. Polity: Cambridge, 1997; 174.
About the author: Mariem is a civil society activist working for democratic governance & religious freedom in the Middle East and North Africa. She writes on critical political & social theory, comparative democracy studies, and Islamic & comparative religious studies. You can follow her on Twitter here.