Every year Muslims from around the world celebrate the end of Ramadan with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Literally translating from Arabic as “festival of breaking the fast”, the holiday can last for days and begins at the start of the lunar month of Shawwal.
Here are seven things you might not know about one of Islam’s most important festivals:
The date always varies
The day on which Eid al-Fitr begins is determined by a confirmed sighting of the new moon after a month of fasting, so the date changes every year and varies geographically.
Every year there is controversy over the sighting of the moon, the Gulf News reports. “The question religious scholars ask is, why do Muslims put themselves through this confusion every year?” it says, especially when “science and technology can detect the birth of the new moon”.
This year, Eid will take place on either the evening of Thursday 14 June or Friday 15 June, depending on the sighting of the crescent moon.
Food is at the heart of celebrations
Eid al-Fitr is a holiday dedicated to feasting and serves as the “the light at the end of the tunnel after a long and difficult month of fasting and abstaining”, says the Al Bawaba website.
Muslims typically enjoy a small breakfast ahead of morning prayers and then visit friends and relatives where a lavish feast is served. Gifts are also exchanged, with clothes the most popular presents.
“On Eid, you are encouraged to eat all the things that are too rich, too sweet, too creamy for a normal day,” food writer Sumayya Usmani told The New York Times. Delicacies in her hometown of Karachi, Pakistan, include indulgent desserts like fluffy pineapple cake, while in the Middle East, Eid is often celebrated with pastries such as Ma’amoul – shortbread filled with dates, pistachios or walnuts.
“The whole day is dedicated to rejoicing in having food on the table,” Usmani said.
But it isn’t just about food
While feasting is central to Eid, there are also religious obligations connected to the festival. Muslims will not only be celebrating the end of fasting, but giving thanks to Allah for providing them with strength through Ramadan. Eid is also a time for forgiveness, self-reflection and giving to charity, says the BBC.
The day starts early in the morning, with Muslims gathering at mosques or outdoor squares to perform Eid prayers. The community then celebrates together, with everyone sharing the food they have prepared.
“Growing up in India, my parents taught my brother and I that if you are blessed with abundance it’s your obligation, or rather it’s your privilege, to share your abundance with those less fortunate,” writes Ila Paliwal in HuffPost.
There are calls for it to be a public holiday in Britain
Traditionally, Eid is celebrated for three days and is a national holiday in Muslim countries. In the UK, “most people tend to celebrate for a day and will take time off work or school”, says The Independent.
In recent years, the UK government has come under growing pressure to have one of the most important days in the Muslim calendar recognised by British law.
When the issue was debated in Parliament in 2016, Tory MP Bob Blackman said: “Wouldn’t it be a statement that we as a nation embrace [Islam], and the people who hold [it] dear, and we are ready to recognise their place in our society?”
However, the government argued that while it was aware of the importance of the festival, the cost to the economy of another public holiday would be “considerable”.
How will it be celebrated in the UK
One of the biggest Eid celebrations in Europe traditionally takes place in Birmingham, and this year is no exception with tens of thousands of people expected to attend an event at Small Heath Park for prayers, food and entertainment.
Similar events are scheduled across the UK over that weekend including in Blackburn, Manchester and Bradford.
In the past, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has led the annual celebration in the capital, which normally culminates in festivities in Trafalgar Square on a Saturday.
In a personal video message recorded in 2016, the capital’s first Muslim mayor wished everyone around the world a happy Eid.
“London’s greatest strength is our diversity and the way we don’t just tolerate, but respect and celebrate our different traditions and backgrounds,” he said. “Now more than ever, it is important that we come together and stand against anyone who wants to divide us.”
What is the difference between Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha?
There are in fact two Eids every year. Where Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Adha coincides with the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Known as “the sacrifice feast”, the latter honours the prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice of his son Ishmael, an act of submission to Allah’s command, and will begin this year on 21 August or the day after and last for three days.
During this time, “Muslims traditionally sacrifice animals, in Britain this is done in a slaughterhouse, and the meat is divided up among friends, family and the needy”, says The Sun.