The Evolution of Eid Experiences
When the end of Ramadan approaches, Muslims everywhere get ready for the celebration of the festival of Eid ul Fitr, known in this region as Hari Raya Puasa or Hari Raya Aidilfitri. One of the more interesting things about how Raya is celebrated, as the festival is commonly known, is that celebrations stretch for the entire month of Shawal.
This often means a month of visiting and feasting after the month of fasting in Ramadan, which might seem to negate the entire experience of fasting but hey, that’s how we roll. Of course, the ‘real’ reason behind visiting is the strengthening of silatalrahim, the bonds between family and friends. Food just happens to be part of that equation.
As a child, let’s just say I was not a fan of Hari Raya visiting. I wasn’t a big eater, and green packets (filled with money and given to children, as is the practice here) were not big enough an incentive for me to appreciate being dragged all over Singapore for a month to visit relatives I barely knew. I was not a very sociable kid, in case that wasn’t very clear. I would like to think that I’ve changed since then, but I’m sure many of my relatives still know me as the kid who never talked and who refused to go into people’s houses.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, as I enjoyed visiting my late maternal grandparents house and playing with my cousins. Our grandparents house was always the first stop after the mosque on the first day of Shawal, and Hari Raya was really never quite the same after they passed on.
As a married man though, the tables were turned on me. I was shocked that my wife’s family’s Raya celebrations didn’t involve visiting and being visited by dozens of extended family members virtually every day over the course of four weeks. It wasn’t that they didn’t do visiting or were not close knit, just that it was a very different experience from what I was used to.
Having a child also made me appreciate how difficult it must have been for my parents when I was younger to be dragging my brother and me around in the back of a car from house to house, with one crying whenever he had to actually go into somebody’s home (yes that was me).
Married life also introduced me to the whole phenomenon of “balik kampung”, as in our second year of marriage we headed back to my mother-in-law’s hometown in Johore, Malaysia. It wasn’t quite the rice-planting, cow-milking experience that this city boy expected, but playing with fireworks in the middle of a rubber plantation is a far cry from the hectic hubbub of the Geylang Serai bazaar that most Singaporeans would be used to.
Of course, I hope my spiritual relationship with Eid has changed as well. Having my knowledge of Islam deepen over the years, I now look forward to the month of Ramadan, understanding its spiritual significance beyond just avoiding eating and drinking during the day. I never quite achieve all of my religious ‘goals’ for the month, but I hope that whatever little I do manage to accomplish is done with sincerity and that Allah accepts it.
I love hearing the Eid takbir, both resounding from the radio as I break my fast on the last day of Ramadan, and at the mosque as I attend Eid prayers in the morning, as a reminder of the greatness of God and His transcendent Oneness. I appreciate going to the mosque for prayers in the morning, repeating the Eid takbir along with the jama’ah, listening to the khutbah (Eid khutbahs are always the best) and shaking hands and hugging my Muslim brethren as though I’ve known them for years.
And as my parents grow older, I find the traditional practice of asking for their forgiveness on the morning of the first of Shawal more meaningful, as I know that my time with them is limited, and going through what they go through I appreciate their sacrifices more.
Here’s wishing everybody a blessed Eid. May Allah accept all our good deeds and allow us to revisit the month of Ramadan once again next year.
Ahmad Zhaki Abdullah
Ahmad Zhaki holds a degree in English Literature from the University of London. He is a full-time executive at a local research institute and a part-time writer.