In Arabic, Eid literally means 'returning at regular intervals'. The fact that they occur in a regular cycle is important, for it gives a repeated opportunity for renewal, to forgive enemies, and contact people one has not seen for a long time. Although there are several special times in the Islamic calendar, there are really only two religious festivals. These are Eid al-Fitr and Eidul Adha.
Eid al-Fitr, commonly shortened to Eid, marks the end of the period of fasting, which lasts throughout the ninth month of the lunar calendar, that is Ramadan. Eid, celebrated at the conclusion of this month, shows that the period of fasting has been successfully completed.
Fasting is a symbol of religious duty in Islam, while Eid is the symbol of reward after having fulfilled this duty. During the month of fasting the faithful refrain from eating and drinking for the whole day. This abstinence reinforces moral discipline through physical self control. Abstaining from food and drink is the outward aspect of fasting, while self-discipline is its spirit.
According to Islam, human life has been divided into two parts, the first of which—a very small part –unfolds in this present world, while the major part is lived out in the Hereafter. Man has been given freedom of choice in this present world. However, this freedom has not been granted as his right but has rather been given to him so that he may be put to the test. It is desirable, therefore, that in spite of the freedom and power he possesses, man should adhere of his own free will to the divine discipline.
Fasting is a form of training in this discipline. When the faithful complete this training course in all sincerity, according to Islam, they are held deserving of God’s most precious reward. The day of Eid is symbolic of these glad tidings.
The Prophet of Islam observed that one who fasted, but did not give up telling lies and committing evil deeds, was not required by God to stay away from food and drink, i.e. his fasting had no value in the eyes of God. This saying of the Prophet throws light on the true spirit of fasting, which, in its higher sense, means abstaining from evil. So the glad tidings of Eid are only for those who fast in the true spirit of piety.
As Eid al-Fitr concludes the fasting period of Ramadan, the fourth great pillar of Islam - of earnest labour, spent in fasting, prayers and recitation of the Quran, it is a day of thanksgiving and jubilation. It is the loftiest achievement of moral exercises, which is celebrated with the greatest of zeal. It is with this spirit of thanksgiving that Idul Fitr is observed all over the Muslim world, by offering prayers to God, and rejoicing on the accomplishment of an act of dedication and submission to the Almighty. The Muslims pay obeisance to the Lord in congregation, displaying the real spirit of brotherhood, equality and fraternity through the congregational prayers and feasts.
The atmosphere of festivity and celebration can be found in all Muslim localities all over the world. There is no dearth of delights and merriment that accompanies any human celebrations. The poor and rich alike are attired in their best clothes, houses are cleaned and decorated, and greeting cards and gifts are exchanged. Delicious meals are cooked, and friends and relatives are invited. It is also an occasion when friends from different communities also share this joyous occasion. They have meals together and take part in one another's happiness.
Man is a social animal and he needs to interact with fellow human beings. Festivities and celebrations exist in all societies of the world. Likewise, for the Muslim community, this is a great occasion to interact with one another. This festival breaks the barriers of humanity, and fulfills the demand of human nature. Due to one's own social engagements often one does not have the time to socialize in this fast paced world. The celebration of Eid thus acts as an excuse to break and stay away from these routine engagements, and merge with humanity, in order to sustain unity and cohesiveness.
One of the main reasons for celebrating Eid is that happiness can be spread to all mankind. By sharing happiness with one another we can certainly make this world a better place to live. This will definitely foster a feeling of brotherhood and promote love to all mankind irrespective of cast or creed. Thus Eid symbolizes a new basis for human unity as well.
It should also not be forgotten that the real happiness lies in sharing the bounties that God has given us with others. We should not forget those who are afflicted with poverty, ignorance, disease and other misfortune. That is why charity has been held obligatory before the Eid prayers. The needs of fellow human beings should never be ignored. For the real essence of Eid lies in spreading happiness and love all around us, which can be fulfilled only when we help the poor and the needy. It is incumbent on us, to give sadqa fitr, alms given on this festival. The alms should be paid well before the Eid day so that the poor may take part in the celebrations as well.
The occasion of this festival provides, above all, a valuable opportunity to extend the hand of friendship to the people from other communities, and remove misunderstandings often prevalent in the society. Muslims should come out of their seclusion and forge friendship, in order that this misunderstanding which clearly stems out from a narrow perception is effectively brought to an end.
This is clearly evident from a program I recently watched on Star TV. A group of about 20 school children were asked questions regarding the tensions prevailing between India and Pakistan. At the end of this session the conductor of this program told these children to raise their hands if they were in favor of a war with Pakistan. The majority of them raised their hands, while some didn't. When the few children who didn't want a war with Pakistan were asked the reason for it they said that they had been to the country on a cultural exchange program, and had found the people there quite friendly. Therefore they did not want any act of hostility against them.
This incident shows us how things can be perceived differently, in a far more positive way. Therefore Muslims should come out, and clear the air of misunderstanding, which has been built up for half a century. Eid provides a God-given opportunity for interaction between different communities. By sharing our happiness with them we can go a long way in easing the tension existing between Muslims and non-Muslims in India. The establishment of proper relation among different communities will definitely result in the prosperity of the community and the nation at large.
So we should take the opportunity of Eid day to freely interact with one another, so the day of Eid becomes not merely one of worship, but also a great social activity. Eid thus becomes a day of reconciliation.