Eid-ul-Fitr is a comparatively new festival, and not as old as Eid-ul-Azha. Whereas Eid-ul-Azha, commemorating the glorious sacrifices of the Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail (peace be upon them), goes back to the days of yore in the eighteenth century before Christ. Eid-ul-Fitr originated in the 7th century A.D. In fact, Eid-ul-Fitr is the newest major festival amongst the celestial religions.
Eid-ul-Fitr was not known to the Muslims till the Holy Hijrat to the then Yathrib (no Medina) in 622 A.D. After His Hijrat to Medina, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) found the people there regularly celebrating two estivals of Persian origin -- the Mihirjan and the Nawroze on the nights of the full moon of spring and autumn, respectively.
The way these two festivals were celebrated in then Arabia and Persia was not only highly objectionable but also not compatible with the norms and practices in Islam.
Nawroze and Mihirjan festivals celebrated by the people of Arabia prior to the Holy Prophet's (peace be upon him) hijrat to Medina were mere Arabic versions of the two great festivals of the Zoroastrians namely, Nauruz and Mihrajan respectively.
Both Nauruz, the Festival of the New Year, and Mihirajan, the Feast of Mithra, used to last six days, the number perhaps being based on the six Persian gahanbars. The first day of the new-year was called Nauruz-i-Amma ("of the people") or Kucak ("little"), and the sixth day was Nauruz-i-Hasa ("noble") or Buzurg ("great").
It was the custom of the Kisra (Persian Kings) that the King opened the Nauruz festival and then proclaimed to all that he would hold a session for them, and bestow benefits upon them.
On the second day, the session was for men of high rank, and for the members of the great families. On the third day, the session was for his warriors, and for the highest Manbadh (Priests), on the fourth day, it was for his family, his relations and domestics, and on the fifth, it was for his children and clients -- when the sixth day came, and he had done justice to all of them, he celebrated Nauruz for himself and conversed only with special friends and those who were admitted into his privacy.
As in the case of Nauruz, the first day of Mihirajan was known as Mihirajan-i-Amma and the last Mihirajan-i-Hasa. As stated earlier, this festival, like Nauruz, also lasted six days. But at one period it spread over thirty days, the first five being, according to Al-Biruni, "feast days for the princes, the second for nobility, the third for the servants of the princes, the fourth for their clients, the fifth for the people, and the sixth for the herdsmen."
Thus, instead of each of the six gahanbars being represented by only one day of the festival, it was at one time honoured both at Nauruz and at Mihirajan by a period of five days.
Both Nauruz and Mihrajan were originally New Year festivals. The Avesta year originally began about the time of the autumnal equinox and, during the closing years of the reign of Darius I (522-486), it was changed to conform to the regular Babylonian year, thus commencing about the time of the vernal equinox.
The Arabs used to celebrate Nawroze and Mihirjan from the night of the full moon of spring and autumn, respectively, almost exactly in the same way as the ersians celebrated Nauruz and Mihrajan. To both, these two occasions were of great honour and significance.
It is well illustrated by the following saying of Salman al Farsi (RA) as cited by Al-Biruni: "In Persian times we used to say that God has created an ornament for his slaves, of rubies on Nauruz, of emeralds on Mihrajan. Therefore, these two festivals excel all other days in the same way as these two jewels excel all other jewels."
The general scheme of celebration of Nawroze and Mihirjan not only laid emphasis on the artificial differences between rich and poor, and the haves and have-nots, which was not at all compatible with the concept of equality in Islam, it also normally led people to drunken orgies, frequently ending in brawls and bloodshed. Even the Kiyan, the women practicing immoral dancing and singing, whose immorality was proverbial, used to command wide respect during elebration of these festivals, when even the great chieftains used to pay public court to them.
The Holy Prophet (pbuh) was literally shocked and surprised, and is reported to have observed: "Allah has given you two days better than these days -- the days of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha." The age-old practice of celebration of Nawroze and Mihirjan festivals was very rightly stopped, and the Muslims started celebrating the two auspicious Eid-days -- in the mornings of which the Muslims are supposed to say a two-rakat special congregational prayer -- in right earnest.
And, as in all other prayers in Islam, there is no discrimination of race and nationality, no difference between black and white, rich and poor, wise and ignorant, slave and master, haves and have-nots, in this thanks-giving congregational prayer of Eid-ul-Fitr.
The word Eid in Arabic means "joy" and Fitr stands for "break of fast," and symbolises "return to normalcy." Eid-ul-Fitr stands for the joy of breaking of fast or the joy of returning to normalcy.
It reaches mankind every year as a Divine Boon, with a promise of joy and happiness, culminating as it does the month-long period of Siyam and Taqwa, fasting and self-restraint, Tarawwi and I'tikaf, prayers and penance.
Eid-ul-Fitr, the day of rejoicing and offering heart-felt gratitude to Allah through Sadaqa-i-Fitr and the two-rakat congregational prayer in the morning, is indeed a great and auspicious occasion.
It is so auspicious that even women, who are always equal participants in the hardship, austerities and pleasures of Ramadan, have been told by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) to go out and say the Eid prayers in the Eidgah.
Even the night of the Eids have special importance in the eyes of Islam. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "He who passes the night of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha through prayers will never waver or be afraid on the Day of udgement, while others will tremble or quiver on that fateful day."
Eid-ul-Fitr is really an exceptional occasion -- something totally different from an ordinary festival. The month-long fasting of Ramadan teaches a Muslim how to practice Taqwa or self-restraint in the most scientific way.
Sex and food and drink are prohibited for every able-bodied Muslim from dawn to dusk during this holy month, but these are permitted not only throughout the remaining eleven months but also from dusk to small hours in the night even during the month of Ramadan -- a scientific scheme, which is quite reasonable and bearable.
This hitherto unknown system not only makes hardship of self-restraint bearable but also pleasant, and the temporary renunciation makes the fulfilment of the basic desires even more pleasant. Naturally, therefore, at the end of month-long arduous Siyam and Tarawwi, Taqwa and I'tikaf, Eid-ul-Fitr reaches us that Islam is no static system of worship.
It is a living and dynamic movement of thought and action which frees men from the grip of animal instincts, from the idea of artificial differences between rich and poor, high and low, and makes them act upon Divine guidance.
It teaches us over and over again that Islam is a comprehensible code of life, a perfect "deen" which covers every aspect of life, and imposes the authority of Allah in all its dimensions, in every sphere of activity, in every domain of thought.
None can afford to ignore or fight shy of this auspicious day - a unique prize giving ceremony in which the most merciful and the most gracious Allah, in His infinite mercy, Himself distributes the prizes to the winners who have successfully practiced not merely fasting but Al-Siyam in the true sense through prayers and penance, self-restraint, and abstinence from vices in the right kiln of Islam.
According to a Qudsi Hadith, Benign Providence Himself declares: "Every man's work belongs to him. A good deed is repaid from tenfold to seven hundred times. But Fasting belongs to Me and I repay."
No Eid, however, can be successful if it is spent only through fun and frolic, pleasure and gaiety, joy and happiness. There can be no Eid for a Muslim if his neighbours remain unfed and unclothed. No orphan, no helpless person, no apless soul on this clay of a cold star can remain unwept, un-honoured and unsung on this auspicious occasion.
Each and every hungry mouth has to be fed, every unclothed one has to be clothed, and very neglected and despised person has to be looked after in right earnest. The very joy of Eid will be marred if the poor neighbours still remain uncared for, if the poverty-stricken near and dear ones still groan in misery and helplessness.
Syed Ashraf Ali, who passed away in January 2016, was director general of Islamic Foundation Bangladesh
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