Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr 2014: Observance Despite On-going Conflict

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ERBIL, KURDISTAN REGION OF IRAQ – The setting sun at Maghrib or dusk marks the time for Iftar.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began on June 28th, 2014. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Muslim calendar, and of utmost importance to the Muslim “ummah,” or community. Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, and it is mandated that all healthy Muslims must fast everyday from sunrise to sunset during this holy month. Muslims, worldwide, gather to pray at the masjid and eat Suhoor (morning) and Iftar (evening) meals with family and friends. This month of fasting culminates in massive celebration with the holiday, Eid-al-Fitr.

The Tradition of Ramadan in Iraq

The Iraqi population is 97% Muslim, making Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr highly anticipated holidays in the nation. As a time of self reflection, consideration of others and strong faith, during Ramadan Iraqi Muslims fast during the day and gather with their families and neighbors to break their fast at night. Throughout the month, Muslims are meant to be more conscious of the less fortunate, some of whom suffer without eating regularly. Zakat, or almsgiving, is another of the five pillars of Islam which many Muslims, including Iraqis, fulfill during the month of Ramadan by giving charity and helping the impoverished. In our debut Iraq Matters podcast, we interviewed Executive Director and co-founder of the American Islamic Congress, Zainab Al-Suwaij, on Ramadan and its traditions in her native country, Iraq. Zainab described some interesting traditions Iraqis partake in during the holy month. On the fifteenth night of Ramadan, Iraqi children dress up and go from door to door asking and singing songs for candy which Zainab likened to the American holiday Halloween. The last ten days of Ramadan are considered the holiest, and many Muslims spend the entirety of their nights praying during this time. On the eve of Eid-al-Fitr, many Iraqi families make cookies together to share with their friends and family members in the following days of celebration. This reminds my family’s Somali traditions during Ramadan and Eid, where we cook Ramdan/Eid dishes like samosas and donut sweets called mandazi to share with neighbors and friends.

Faith Undeterred by Crisis

This year Ramadan started in the wake of escalating insurgency violence in Iraq, leaving millions displaced and many remaining in conflict stricken areas. The displaced who fled to IDP camps and other cities have faced difficulties with fuel and supply shortages, inadequate short-term housing, threat of communicable disease and the intensely hot summer climate in Iraq. Through personal experience I have faced difficult days while fasting, causing me to develop deep admiration for those displaced Iraqis who fasted in such a harsh environment throughout Ramadan. The Associated Press provided a glimpse of life during Ramadan in IDP camps, where food is delivered or prepared close to Iftar and set out for families who gather to communally break their fast. In spite of harsh desert surroundings, these families laid their food out in giant rows and ate as a community, bound together by their similar circumstances and faith.

Eid Mubarak, Celebrations and Festivities

In the past three days, Muslims across the world celebrated the end of Ramadan with Eid-al-Fitr. In predominantly Muslim countries, Eid festivities last for three days and both children and adults are excused from school and work to celebrate in mass with their families and friends. For Muslims in western nations, the festivities are usually shortened to a day or two, but are equally defined by family, food and prayer. On Eid, Muslim families typically go to their local masjid for Eid prayers, make donations to charity, and gather with their loved ones to eat grand spreads of food. Eid celebrations bring great happiness and joy, however this year many Muslims living in areas like Iraq, Palestine, Syria, the Central African Republic and Malaysia, have faced recent tragedies, including the loss of loved ones and displacement, making this Eid less lively than usual. The greater Muslim community has recognized the trials facing their brothers and sisters and has reduced the size of their celebrations to mourn those lost. Iman Eddbali, a 26 year old in Doha, told the Huffington Post that “it is a religious duty to celebrate the end of Ramadan … but at the same time it would be indecent to overdo it this year” because many Muslims are unable to celebrate Eid-al-Fitr due to their situations. The strong solidarity within the Muslim community shined through brightly on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, where reminders and prayers for those struggling were consistently voiced.

The EPIC staff hopes all Muslims enjoyed happy and safe Eid festivities!

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