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World: Muslims Celebrating Eid, The End Of Ramadan

By Andrea Boyle

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is coming to a close. While devout Muslims celebrate its end, the holiday of Eid, as a time of peace and forgiveness, more secular believers use it as a reason to party. RFE/RL looks in the meaning of the holiday and its celebrations.

Prague, 25 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- This week, many religious Muslims around the world will be visiting family, friends, and even enemies. The visits are part of Eid, the celebration marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The three-day Eid feast begins with Eid al-Fitr, the first day, and marks the completion of a month of fasting. During Ramadan, Muslims spend the daylight hours without food, eating only at night.

Islamic law tells Muslims to use this holiday as a time of peace and forgiveness. They are encouraged to visit both friends and enemies. According to tradition, they should spend this time mending relationships. They are told to forgive all grievances with others.

Eid is a social gathering as much as it is a religious ritual. It's is one of only two holidays set down in Islamic law. The festival begins when the new moon is first spotted in the sky. Thus, different groups and countries begin their Eid celebrations on different days. Some Muslims, like those in Libya and Iraq's Sunnis, marked the day yesterday while others, like Saudi Arabians and Afghans, begin today. And still more will start tomorrow or the next day.

The prophet Muhammad said that on Eid al-Fitr, in addition to going to the mosque and visiting others, each person should wear a new or clean set of clothes. They also traditionally present gifts of money to children and give to charity.

Abdul Malikzada of RFE/RL's Afghan Service explained the significance of spending three days celebrating: "In my country, Afghanistan, the celebration [continues] for three days [because] in one day it is not possible to go around [to] all your relatives, friends, neighbors to say hello to them and to say congratulations. So it means it takes several days because if you go to someone's house -- to your relatives' house, to your parents' house, to your neighbors' house -- that means they also have [to visit you]."

In some countries, like Afghanistan, Eid remains a religious-based celebration. In more secular countries, like Tajikistan, it has developed into a more general celebration. Tajiks celebrate in more low-key fashion. While men might go to the mosque and afterwards hug each other as a sign of forgiveness, they do not go door to door forgiving their enemies. Many people buy something new to wear, though rarely a whole outfit, and small amounts of money are given to children and the poor.

In other, more prosperous nations, some complain Eid has taken on a commercial slant, like Christmas has in the West. In parts of Pakistan, for example, shops and restaurants are filled with customers in search of an upscale present or a large meal. Major shopping centers stay open until midnight to accommodate shoppers.

Some Islamic scholars have come out against these sorts of ostentatious buying habits, saying it is not in line with the holy celebration.