By Hassan Idris.
It’s quite important to demystify the fact that in the festivity of Eid festival which is a religious celebration amongst Muslims all over the world, there is quite a lot of sociologically significant display, which demands sociological explanations and outlooks.
Religious festivals such as Eid hold a greater importance to sociologists like Emile Durkheim who developed a widely used theory for explaining what holds society and social groups together through his study of religion. He was able to identify core aspects of religious structure and participation that sociologists today apply to the study of society in its entirety.
This includes the role of religious festivals and rituals in bringing about social cohesion, social solidarity, and people together around shared practices and values; and ways that participation in religious festivals and rituals reaffirms shared values, and thus reaffirms and strengthens the social bonds between people and the experience of “collective effervescence,” in which people tend to share in feelings of excitement and are unified in the experience of participating in religious festivals and rituals together, and of Eid festival as an Islamic holiday, celebrated by many Muslims as a religious holiday with religious rituals, values, and relationships.
Thus, Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), defined religion as a“unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things. Sacred to him meant extraordinary—something that inspired wonder and that seemed connected to the concept of “the divine.”
He argued that “religion happens” in society when there is a separation between the profane (ordinary life) and the sacred. Well, a rock, for example, isn’t sacred or profane as it exists. But if someone makes it into a headstone, or another person uses it for landscaping, it takes on different meanings—one sacred, one profane.
Durkheim who’s generally considered the first sociologist to have analyzed religion in terms of its societal impact believed that religion is about community: It binds people together (social cohesion), promotes behavior consistency (social control), and offers strength during life’s transitions and tragedies (meaning and purpose).
With the applicability of the methodology of natural science to the study of society, Durkheim held that the source of religion and morality is the collective mindset of society and that the cohesive bonds of social order result from common values in a society.
He contended that these values need to be maintained to maintain social stability to which the explanations of Durkheim on the importance and functionality of religion would be used to explain and understand the religious Eid festivals celebrated by all the Muslims in the world.
However, the word “Eid” means festival or feast. It literally depicts the event that is being celebrated. Muslims celebrate two types of Eid every year following two major acts of worship. The first is called“Eid Al-Fitr” which means “the fast-breaking Festival” celebrated after fasting the entire month of Ramadan.
The second, known as “Eid-ul-Adha,” which means“the festival of sacrifice which is celebrated immediately upon the completion of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The Eid Al-Adha entails going for a pilgrimage to Mecca performed by millions of Muslims simultaneously once a year. Through Eid Al-Adha, the sacrifice Abraham was willing to make to God and the mercy God had upon him becomes celebrated and manifested.
Muslims celebrate the day by sacrificing a sheep or so, and sharing it not just with family and friends, but also the less privileged and this celebration lasts four days, beginning on the day after the completion of Hajj. The celebration of Eid Al-Fitr lasts one day, starting with the sighting of the new moon which marks the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan and the beginning of the next month.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast to purify themselves and get closer to God. Ramadan is like a retreat; a time to step aside from all worldly worries and focus on spirituality and improve connections with the one who gave them life and all the blessings that they have.
After going through a lengthy spiritual retreat for a maximum of 29 to 30 days, it is only logical that a feast is held to mark the end of the month. This is what Eid Al-Fitr is all about.
Like Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr begins with the first sighting of the new moon, so most of the time Muslims have to wait until the night before Eid to verify its date. If the new moon is not visible, the month lasts 30 days. The date changes annually on the Gregorian calendar and varies from country to country depending on geographical location.
Though, in declaring the start of Eid, Muslim-majority countries depend on the testimonies of local moon sighters. The Judicial High Court then decides if Eid has arrived. When the sighting has been verified, Eid is declared as on televisions, radio stations, and mosques. The celebration of Eid Al-Fitr lasts one day, starting with the sighting of the new moon which marks the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan and the beginning of the next month.
The first Eid Al-Fitr was celebrated in 624 CE by the Prophet Muhammad and his companions after their victory in the battle of Badar, a turning point in the prophets’ struggle with his opponents among the Quraish in Mecca during the early days of Islam.
Inasmuch as the festival is celebrated by all Muslims, there are many doctrines and ways of celebrating it which are sociological and are of paramount interest and importance to sociologists and Anthropologists. However, the traditions of Eid Al-Fitr entails ‘Sawm’,( fast) which is the practice of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan and is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Muslims believe that it was during the month of Ramadan that the text of the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W). Muslims celebrate Eid Al-Fitr with prayers called “Salat Al Eid” in Arabic and in English language as ( Eid Prayer).
There is no audible call to prayer for the Eid prayers. Muslims will gather in mosques or open spaces and offer two units of prayer–called “Rakat”. The prayers are followed by a sermon, in which the Imam asks for forgiveness, mercy, and peace for every being across the world.
To further buttress the sociological social solidarity and love in Islam, which clarifies Durkheim’s postulation, the other key elements of the Eid festival is giving money to the poor (known as ‘Zakat al-Fitr’, the amount to be given depends on the possessions someone has), sending Eid greetings and feasting with families.
For many Muslims, Eid al-Fitr is a festival to show gratitude to Allah for the help and strength he gave them throughout the month of Ramadan to help them practice self-control. The phrase commonly used by Muslims as a greeting on this day is “Eid Mubarak”, which is Arabic for ‘blessed festival’.
Muslims begin Eid with the observance of the Eid congregational prayer, sometimes in the mosque but usually in an outdoor location. Before going for the Eid prayer, it’s encouraged to take a bath and wear the most befitting clothes and looks, dignified for the celebration.
On the way to the Eid Prayer, Muslims recite in Arabic the words: Allah is great, Allah is great, Allah is great. There is no other God but Allah. Allah is great, Allah is great. To him belongs all praise. And after the Eid prayer, people gather together to have a feast with their families and friends where they get to savor the taste of a variety of dishes.
Some even travel to their hometowns or home countries to celebrate with their extended families and rekindle the bond of kinship. There is a rich tradition of gift exchange during Eid. In Nigeria for example, it is customary to gift new clothes and shoes to children.
Sometimes, the children receive money which they use to buy sweets and snacks to enjoy with their friends and cousins. In western countries, however, children receive gifts instead of money and parents decorate their homes to create a mood of excitement for the family.
Finally, Eid is meant to celebrate the completion of a spiritual duty, as well as a time to bond and exchange hugs, kisses, and laughter with family, friends, and the community. Each country has traditional foods and sweets that are prepared ahead of Eid or on the morning of the first day.
These foods range from special biscuits and breads to cakes and puddings. On the first day of Eid al-Fitr, voluntary fasting is not allowed as Muslims are encouraged to feast and celebrate the completion of a month of worship and abstinence from food.
Greetings for Eid also vary depending on the country and language. For instance, in Indonesia Eid is called Lebaran, so Indonesians would say, “Selamat Lebaran” which means Happy Eid. Other variations of Happy Eid are“Barka da Sallah”in Hausa, a Nigerian language.
In addendum, with clothes being an important marker of Eid, some people wear traditional clothes from their culture, while others pick out something new to wear. For every Muslim, Eid is a time of sharing and expressing love, peace, friendship worldwide and extending hands to their non-Muslim neighbors and friends during this festival.
Hassan Idris, A Sociologist & Poet is The Author of Armageddon of Love. & student of A.B.U Zaria-Nigeria