The day after the holy month of Ramadan comes to a close, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the first day of the month of Shawal. In 2013, this will fall on August the 8th, according to the western calendar. That is only the start of Eid al-Fitr, the “festival of breaking the fast”, sometimes known as the “lesser Eid”, or the “sweet festival“ or even the “Sugar feast.” It is a time of happy rejoicing that many enjoy right here at our hotel in Madinah.
Fasting from dawn till dusk from the first day to the last day of the holy month of Ramadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam. People give to the poor, and go to Taraweeh, the evening mosque prayers. Doing so in the exquisite Al Nabawi Mosque, just across from our Dar Al Taqwa hotel, is quite an experience! The exact dates of the holidays become 11 days earlier every year, according to the Gregorian (Western) calendar, as the Hijri or Islamic calendar is a lunar one. People in different parts of the world see the moon up to one day earlier than others, so some Muslims use the local sighting of the first crescent of the moon to mark the start of the month of Ramadan. Many others though, simply accept dates we use here in Saudi Arabia as standard. Here in Madinah, people gather in gardens and public places to see the first moon themselves. Some drive up into the hills around nearly all of the city for a good view.
If you are a Muslim living in the western world Ramadant can be a perfect moment to visit Madinah. If you find yourself here in Saudi Arabia during the month of Ramadan, you will definitely notice the difference from other months. Here everybody is expected to respect the holiday, and even expatriates here are firmly requested by the authorities not to disturb others by drinking, smoking or eating in public during the day, else they run the risk of severe punishments such as expulsion. Madinah and even busy Jeddah become utterly still during the middle part of the day. 3pm feels like the middle of the night, as few people are on the streets.
After the sun has set (Maghrib time), people gather, often at the Mosque to communally eat the meal of Iftar and though the night people are very active. Attending prayers, but also, in some parts of the kingdom, nighttime shopping has become very popular, up until as late as 3am, and certainly the eateries in the malls and elsewhere experience a great trade as the traditional meal of suhour is served. You will also find it served here in the restaurant of the Dar Al Taqwa Hotel. Traditionally “a light meal usually taken late at night by people intending to fast", so it is important not to compulsively over-eat during the nights of Ramadan, so as to endanger the very idea of the fast as a way to empathise with those less fortunate and gain spiritual insight. Ramadam Kareem, as they say, Ramadan is Generous!
Generally speaking though, even in this late Islamic year of 1434, people keep to the ancient rituals: breaking their fast by eating dates (first, but not only that), feeding the poor and attending Taraweeh, the evening mosque prayers, and this especially so in Madinah.
Image: above right, the Mosque of the Prophet, Madinah, prepared for Iftar Courtesy of Navedz. www.navedz.com/tag/madinah
On the first day of Shawal, there is a great celebration. People dress up in the finest clothes they have, decorate their houses with lights. They visit friends and relations and give treats to children and wish everybody well. Eid Mubarak! It is a time of joy and good feeling and in this modern world, now mobile phones are alive with virtual greetings at this time of year as well. People who can do so, like to be here in Madinah and outdoors on that night, enjoying the positive atmosphere. Many people congregate around the central square of the Mosque of the prophet Mohamed, peace be upon him!
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