The Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr begins with a smile in the night sky.
Only once the crescent moon announcing the start of the new lunar month has been glimpsed, do ceremonies properly begin.
This lunar sighting – which varies from place to place - marks the first day of Shawwal and the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan. Shawwal is the tenth month in the Islamic lunar calendar and means uplift in Arabic. This relates to the time of the year when a female camel is most likely to be carrying a baby.
Uplift is also appropriate as Eid al-Fitr is a time of spiritual rejoicing worldwide. Often marked by a public holiday, Eid unfolds with a sequence of time-honoured practices.
Worshippers rise before sunrise, clean their teeth, put on their best clothes and attend prayer in an open place or in a communal space such as a Mosque. They also start the day with a sweet breakfast, often a plate of dates. Sweet things predominate during Eid as a reminder of the sweet things in life. Indeed it is forbidden to fast during Eid al-Fitr.
The Mayor, Sadiq Khan, recalls his childhood experiences of Ramadan and Eid:
“When I was younger, my sister, brothers and I would count down the minutes to Iftar – the moment after sundown when we could break our fast. As soon as that time came, we would break our fast in the traditional way, with dates. We couldn’t wait for Iftar. It was always a time of great joy and a time for the whole family to come together. Now I have a family of my own, we continue the tradition.
Eid itself is a time of great celebration with friends, family and neighbours. Naturally, food is an important part of the festivities. There’s nothing better than sharing food with those closest to you”.
Food aside, Eid is characterised by alms-giving, or acts of charity towards the less fortunate. These acts of charity are second only to prayer, and generally happen before prayer.
The prayers themselves preach the spirit of forgiveness and of putting aside one’s differences in a shared commitment to peace.
Peace, forgiveness and sweet things. No wonder the moon is smiling.