Id al-Fitr

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Related to Id al-Fitr: hajj, Eid al-Adha

Id al-Fitr (Feast of Fast Breaking, The Lesser Feast)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Muslim)
Date of Observation: First day of the tenth Islamic lunar month of Shawwal
Where Celebrated: Africa, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, and throughout the Muslim world
Symbols and Customs: Alms, Id Prayer, Moon
Related Holidays: Id al-Adha, Ramadan ORIGINS

Id al-Fitr is one of the traditions of Islam, one of the world's largest religions. According to some estimates, there are more than one billion Muslims worldwide, with major populations found in the Middle East, North and sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. In Europe and the United States, Islam is the second largest religious group, with some seven million adherents in the United States. During the early years of Islam, the faith spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula into regions that are today occupied by Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. Contrary to popular opinion, however, Muslims are not just Arabs. Muslims-followers of Islam-are found in many different ethnic groups all over the globe. In fact, Arabs make up less than twenty percent of Muslims.

The word Islam is an Arabic word that means "surrender to God." Its other meanings include peace, safety, and health. The central focus of Islam is a personal commitment and surrender to Allah, the Arabic word for God. In Islam, the concept of Allah is universal and eternal. Allah is the same in every religion and throughout the history of humankind. A person who follows Islam is called a Muslim, which means one who surrenders or submits to Allah's will. But Islam is not just a religion of belief; it is a religion of action. Five specific deeds are required of followers; these are called The Five Pillars of Islam. They are 1) Sha- hadah-confession of faith; 2) Salat-prayer/worship; 3) Zakat-charity; 4) Sawm-fasting; and 5) Hajj-pilgrimage.

The message of Islam was brought by Muhammad (570-632 C . E .), who is considered a prophet of Allah. The holy book of Islam is the Qur'an (also sometimes spelled Koran or Alcoran). According to Islamic belief, the Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad by Allah over a period of twenty-three years. Authorship of the Qur'an is attributed to Allah, and not to Muhammad; Muhammad merely received it. Muslims believe that because it originated with Allah, the Qur'an is infallible.

There are two main sects within Islam: Sunni and Shi'ite. Sunni Muslims are the majority (estimated at about eighty percent). They recognize the authority of the first four Caliphs, including Ali, and they believe that the Sunna (the example of the Prophet Muhammad) is interpreted through the consensus of the community. Shi'ite Muslims also look to special teachers, called imams. The imams are the direct descendants of Muhammad through Fatimah and Ali. These individuals are believed to be inspired and to possess secret knowledge. Shi'ites, however, do not recognize the same line of Islamic leaders acknowledged by the Sunnis. Shi'ites hold to a doctrine that accepts only leaders who are descended from Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah and her husband Ali. Many Shi'ite subsects believe that true imams are errorless and sinless. They receive instruction from these leaders rather than relying on the consensus of the community. Id al-Fitr

Also known as the Little Festival or the Lesser Feast, the Id al-Fitr is the second most important major holiday (after the ID AL-ADHA, or Great Feast) in the Islamic calendar. It follows the sighting of the new MOON that signifies the end of the month-long fast of RAMADAN and the beginning of a three-day period of feasting and celebration. Sometimes it is called the "sugar" festival, because of the sweets that are exchanged as gifts on this occasion.

Because it marks the end of an entire month of fasting and devotion, the Little Festival is observed with even more enthusiasm than the Great Festival. Although both feasts last three to four days and involve special prayer services, the Id al-Fitr is characterized by more spontaneous shows of joy and generosity. Muslims dress in their newest or best clothes and begin the day by gathering to recite the ID PRAYER . When the prayers are over, everyone embraces, greeting each other with the words Id Mubarak or "Happy Id." The day is often celebrated with camel races, puppet shows, and carnival rides.

Id refers to a festival of great joy and never-ending happiness, a time when Muslim families get together to give thanks and forget their differences. Much like Christians preparing for CHRISTMAS, Muslims decorate their houses, buy gifts for their friends and relatives, and send out Id cards. Shopping is such a big part of the festival that stores in many Muslim countries stay open all night during Ramadan. Muslims living in Western countries usually take a day off work (as opposed to the three-day holiday observed in Muslim countries) and let their children stay home from school. In some countries, the Id al-Fitr is a popular time to invite non-Muslim friends over for a visit, to foster greater understanding among different ethnic and religious groups.

Foods traditionally served at the Lesser Feast include shir khorma, made from milk, vermicelli, sugar, dates, and nuts. In Pakistan, this special treat is known as saween.



A special offering, known as the zakat al-fitr and consisting of a measure of grain (or its equivalent) for each member of the household, is given to the poor during the Id al-Fitr. Every Muslim who can afford to do so is also asked to donate money to the poor in advance of the holiday, so that the poor have time to prepare for the celebration. In Western countries, money is often collected and sent to less wealthy Islamic countries, such as Bangladesh.

Id Prayer

On the first morning of Id al-Fitr, Muslims wake up early and flock to mosques or outdoor prayer grounds-such as parks, fields, and playgrounds-to offer special Id prayers. Muslims living in London, for example, often hold their Id prayers in Regents' Park.

There are three different types of prayer in the Islamic religion. One is the spontaneous, individual prayer in which a worshipper expresses his personal feelings and petitions God. The second, known as salah ("worship"), is the ritual prayer that must be performed five times each day. Special forms of salah are prescribed for religious festivals, such as the Id al-Fitr, or to ask for guidance in particular circumstances. The third type of prayer is the inward prayer of "remembrance" of God, which often involves rhythmic chanting to induce a state of ecstasy.

Since Id al-Fitr is supposed to be a gathering for the entire Islamic community, women and children are also encouraged to come to the prayers. Many women, however, prefer to stay at home and prepare the foods that will be served during the three-day feast.


Because it marks the end of the fast of RAMADAN, the first appearance of the new moon of Shawwal generates great excitement-even greater than that at the beginning of Ramadan. As soon as the moon is sighted, everyone rushes to congratulate each other and begin celebrating. If the moon can't be seen because of clouds, which often happens in Western countries, people consult their local mosque or Islamic center, which receives information from Muslim countries by radio and telephone about where and when the Id moon is due to appear. Because of the distance between the various Muslim countries, however, the Id al-Fitr does not always begin at the same time.


Ahsan, M.M. Muslim Festivals. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Enterprises, 1987. Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Glassé, Cyril. The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1999. Gulevich, Tanya. Understanding Islam and Muslim Traditions. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Von Grunebaum, Gustave E. Muhammadan Festivals. New York: Schuman, 1951. Id al-Fitr


Religion Facts
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Id al-Fitr (Eid)

First day of Islamic month of Shawwal
Also known as the Feast of Fast-Breaking, or the Lesser Feast, Id al-Fitr marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan and the beginning of a three-day feast. It is the second most important Islamic holiday after Id al-Adha.
The Id prayer is performed by the whole community at an outdoor prayer ground ( musalla ) or mosque. Then people put on new clothes, children are given presents, and everyone visits relatives and friends. It is the time when everyone asks pardon for all the wrongs of the past year. Village squares have carnival rides, puppet shows, and candy vendors.
It is called Lebaran or Hari Raya by Indonesians, Thais, and Malaysians. In Turkey, where it is called the Candy Festival, or Seker Bayrami, this is the day on which children are given candy or money wrapped in handkerchiefs. In Pakistan the special treat associated with this day is saween, a spaghetti cooked in milk and sugar, and sprinkled with almonds, pistachios, and dates.
In Malaya, where it is called Hari Raya, they hold open houses. It is the new custom to have one's non-Muslim friends visit to foster more understanding between different religious groups. Muslims in turn will visit Chinese friends during Lunar New Year, Hindus during Dewali, and Christians at Christmas.
In West Africa, a Mande feast of the virgins has been added to this feast. In western Guinea, young men and women parade all night with floats of animals and boats, singing and dancing; small children sing for presents.
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 871
BkFest-1937, p. 238
BkFestHolWrld-1970, pp. 80, 113
BkHolWrld-1986, Jun 27
ConEncyIslam-1991, p. 178
DictWrldRel-1989, p. 597
EncyRel-1987, vol. 7, p. 456, vol. 13, p. 91
FestWrld: Saudi-1999, p. 12
FestWrld: Turkey-1999, p. 8
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 791
HolSymbols-2009, p. 394
MuhFest-1988, p. 63
OxYear-1999, p. 733
RelHolCal-2004, p. 148
UndIslam-2004, pp. 297, 315

Id al-Fitr (Nigeria)
First day of the Islamic month of Shawwal
Among Nigerian Muslims Id al-Fitr—the feast concluding the month-long Ramadan fast—begins with a procession to the emir's palace. People wear new, festive clothes for the event. The emir is the chief or head of state, and as he sits on his throne, beautifully adorned horses and riders honor him with a sallah —a traditional, and dramatic, way of showing respect. One by one, each horseman gallops toward the emir at full tilt and halts only at the last possible moment, then the horseman salutes. The emir's own bodyguards are the last to honor him in this unnerving way. After the sallah is over, the feasting and merrymaking starts. Ox-taming—a special form of bullfighting—is a popular entertainment.
The Islamic religion came to Nigeria around the 11th century with Arabs who crossed the Sahara Desert to trade.
See also Sallah Festival
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
3519 International Ct. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-986-8400; fax: 202-775-1385
FestWrld: Nigeria-1998, p. 20

Celebrated in: Nigeria

Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.