Eid al-Fitr 2019: everything you need to know about the Muslim festival

The end of Ramadan is celebrated with feasts, gifts and a wealth of ancient traditions

Thai Muslims release hundred of balloons after a morning prayer marking the start of the Islamic feast of Eid al-fitr
(Image credit: 2007 Getty Images)

Millions of Muslims around the world will be celebrating Eid Al-Fitr this week, following a month of fasting.

Eid al-Fitr - Arabic for “the feast of the breaking of the fast” - is when Muslims return to regular eating cycles and thank Allah for sustaining them during Ramadan, which they hope has “brought them closer to God”, explains The Independent.

The annual celebration was first marked by the Prophet Mohammed in 624CE following a victory in battle. Eid begins today in the UK and can continue for up to three days. Some countries start the celebration earlier or later as the date depends on the sighting of the lunar crescent.

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Followers of Islam observe a number of traditions during Eid al-Fitr, including donating money to charity. British Muslims are estimated to give an average of around £370 each to charity during Ramadan, according to the Charity Commission.

Events are being held across the country, including Birmingham’s Eid in the Park festival, the largest of its kind in Europe, today and London City Hall’s Eid Festival 2019 on Saturday.

But what is this significance of this ancient religious festival, and how else is it celebrated across the world?

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”.

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

The biggest Eid celebration 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.

On Saturday, London Mayor Sadiq Khan will lead the annual celebration in the capital, which culminates in festivities in Trafalgar Square, promising “an exciting stage line up, family fun and delicious food”.

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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 11 August in the UK 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.

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