Eid 101: Five facts about Eid al-Fitr

Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, is celebrated over three days. Here are five facts about the holiday.

1.Breaking the fast

Sunni worshippers eat breakfast together after their Eid al-Fitr prayers to mark the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan at a Sunni mosque in Baghdad, Iraq, August 8, 2013. (Thaier al-Sudani/REUTERS)

Eid al-Fitr literally means the Festival of Breaking the Fast, and it marks the end of a month-long fast. During the month of Ramadan, observant Muslims are expected to abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk in order to purify their minds and bodies. On the day of Eid, however, it is forbidden to fast.

Traditional greetings during Eid are Eid Mubarak, which means "Blessed Eid," and Eid Said, meaning "Happy Eid."

Lunar start date

Islam follows the lunar calendar, so the start of Eid is determined by the sighting of the moon. Once the crescent moon marking the start of the next month, Shawwal, is spotted, the month of Ramadan is over and Eid may begin. This means that, according to the solar Gregorian calendar used by the secular world, Eid falls on a different day every year.

Another consequence of the lunar start date is that the beginning of Eid may vary from country to country, depending on when the moon is sighted. While most Muslim countries began celebrating Eid today, Oman did not sight the crescent moon and will begin celebrating tomorrow instead, Al Arabiya reports. 

Eid traditions

Indonesian Muslim youths are seen through the windows of a mosque as they perform Eid al-Fitr morning prayers that mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Porong, East Java, Indonesia, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013. (Trisnadi/AP)

On the morning of Eid, Muslims typically wake up early, eat a small breakfast, and go to pray either outside or at a mosque. A sermon is given, followed by a prayer, known as Salat al-Eid, that may only be recited with others.

In the afternoon, Muslims eat a large meal, attend processions and celebrations, and spend time with their friends and family. Gift giving is common during Eid. The celebrations are meant to give thanks to Allah and to ask for sins to be forgiven. 

Zakat al-Fitr

During the last few days of Ramadan, Muslims donate a certain amount of food, called Zakat al-Fitr (charity of breaking the fast), to the poor so that they may too break the fast and celebrate Eid. This donation is a duty that is required of all Muslims.

Zakat, or alms giving, in general is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims of means are obligated to contribute to their community. However, Zakat al-Fitr takes on extra significance as it is meant to represent gratitude to Allah for helping Muslims get through Ramadan’s fast. Moreover, wealthy Muslims are supposed to come into direct contact with those they are giving charity to during Eid.

Celebrations around the world

Filipino Muslims buy balloons during Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, at Manila's Rizal Park, Philippines Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013. (Aaron Favila/AP)

Though Eid celebrations are similar in most places, many countries around the world flavor the holiday with their own traditions.

In Turkey, Eid is called Ramazan Bayram, meaning Ramadan Feast, or Şeker Bayram, which means "sugar feast" for the sweet foods such as baklava that are typically eaten. Reverence for the elderly is particularly emphasized during this period, and older citizens are greeted with a kiss to their right hands.

Eid is referred to as Idul Fitri or Lebaran in Indonesia. During the holiday, many Indonesian Muslims visit the graves of deceased family members where they will clean the gravesite and pray to Allah for forgiveness.

The Philippines is the only Christian country in the world to recognize Eid as a national holiday, known to most as Wakas ng Ramadan. The national holiday was declared in order to promote unity between Filipino Muslims and the rest of the population.