‘Eid is a day when all the Muslims of the world, in India, Africa, Arabia, Egypt, Syria, China, and in every other country, are very, very happy and glad. They get up early in the morning at 3 or 4 o’clock, prepare the choicest dishes, and by the time the sun rises, young children can be seen going briskly hither and thither, carrying some sweet gifts to their neighbours, friends and relations. After their bath on this morning everyone puts on the best clothes they can afford, scented with perfumes, and the streets are variegated with beautiful fancy-coloured dresses. Even serious-minded people yield at this time of the year to some of the innocent beckonings of gaiety. Drinking, music, and dancing are not allowed in Islam, but people entertain one another in the most sumptuous manner. It is usual on this day to embrace one another and say, “‘Eid Mubarak, ‘Eid Mubarak,” i.e., “Happy ‘Eid congratulations, happy ‘Eid congratulations!” Special fairs are held in many places and these various expressions of happiness are continued late into the night, till at last their gaiety is spent, and the festival comes to a close.
It may be asked why a Muslim is happy at ‘Eid. Most Muslims are happy on that day perhaps, because they look upon it as a festival which has been celebrated annually from the very time of their birth, and has some sweet associations attached to it. Some might be happy merely because the world looks happy. Some indifferent ones would perhaps say they are happy because now that the month of fasting is over they can eat and drink whenever they like, and live comfortably as they could before the month of Ramadan. But it is not really so, for Ramadan is not a burden upon the Muslims. If it were so, the early Muslims would not have asked the Holy Prophet(saw) after it about the blessings of the other months. They would not have been eager for its arrival. The Holy Qur’an records:
They ask you about the new moons (after the month of Ramadan), say, they are times appointed for the benefit of the people.(Ch.2:V.190)
The Holy Qur’an was revealed, as is well-known, in the month of Ramadan, and the followers of the Holy Prophet(saw) had had such spiritual exaltation that in order to make further progress they inquired if such was the case with the other months as well. This surely shows clearly that fasting was not regarded as a burden by the Muslims.
The ‘Eid may be understood to commemorate, in a sense, the beginning of the spiritual ministry of the Holy Prophet(saw), for the Holy Qur’an having been revealed in the month of Ramadan, the Holy Prophet(saw) began to preach the truth to the world from this day. The Ramadan marks an epoch in the history of mankind because in it was revealed the best of guidance for all ages and all climes, and to the individual Muslim it is a valuable opportunity for great spiritual progress. So the ‘Eid which terminates it is a joy to all, but it entails a responsibility also for the preaching of Islam to the four corners of the world.
The Arabic language has a peculiarity of its own. Every word has in itself some reason for the meaning it conveys. The word “‘Eid” implies a great event, which naturally causes anxiety; and this is another meaning of the same word. The beginning of the prophetic career of Muhammad(saw) is a very great event, and its celebration would entail anxious responsibility upon all the Muslims for the giving of the glad tidings to the world.
As the ‘Eid comes after the month of fasting, it can offer little pleasure for a person who has not observed the fast properly. So for such a person the ‘Eid is a sorrow; and this also is a meaning of the same word. It is an opportunity lost, and therefore a sorrow. But it cannot be a sorrow to those who observe the fasts regularly, make the best of this precious opportunity and make a special progress spiritually, for they have a reason to be happy; therefore, the word ‘Eid generally means in the Arabic literature a happiness that is renewed every year because Muslims collectively are expected to observe the fasts.
But ‘Eid has another meaning as well, for it means a day on which people remember and worship their God. This shows that there is nothing in the day itself that causes sorrow, happiness or anxiety. It is only an occasion and an opportunity, and not a sort of superstition attached to the day. This meaning has the same two aspects, for it is a joy to those who worship and glorify their Creator on this day, and it is a sorrow for those who waste it away in the satisfaction of their lower desires. And it is this aspect of ‘Eid upon which the Holy Prophet(saw) has laid great stress.
Ordinarily a Muslim has to pray five times a day but on the day of ‘Eid he is required to offer a special prayer in the morning to show that it is a pleasure only for those who find their happiness in the remembrance of God. In the prayer itself special stress is laid on the glorification of God. We begin our daily prayers by saying. “Allahu Akbar“ (God is Great) once, but in ‘Eid prayers we say, “God is Great” seven times in the first part, and five times in the second. While going to the place of ‘Eid prayers, a Muslim is recommended to say, “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar La Ilaha Illallah“, meaning that God is great, God is great, and that there is nothing beside Him worth loving, obeying and worshipping. This aspect is emphasised by another commandment of the Holy Prophet(saw). Islam really means the complete surrender of man to God. It is a religion of submission rather than of compulsion, and the smallest details of its teachings are based upon this one principle. Fasting does a man good only when he keeps fasts with a view to seeking the pleasure of God in obedience to His commandment. Otherwise it is lost labour, because Islam does not allow asceticism. It is this spirit of obedience to God which consecrates the month of Ramadan and places it above ‘Eid day and it is, therefore, a sin to fast at that time, just as it is sinful to pray when the sun is rising or setting. All this moreover tends to show that a Muslim is one who completely submits all his desires to God, and finds his pleasure in the love and will of God alone. He does not live to eat, drink, and make merry, but he eats and drinks to live, love and worship his Lord.
In the Holy Qur’an the word ‘Eid occurs only once: “Jesus(as) the son of Mary(as) said, ‘O God our Lord, send down to us food from heaven which should be to us an ‘Eid to the first of us and to the last of us. (Ch.5:V.115)“ This seems to refer to the well-known petition for daily bread in the Lord‘s prayer. The prayer is granted, and the followers of Jesus(as) are favoured with the riches of this world so that it is almost an ‘Eid for them every day. They possess everything in this world, wealth, riches and power; they dress, eat, drink, and enjoy every day as a Muslim would do on the day of ‘Eid. But the Holy Qur’an sounds a note of warning for the Christians, which is in fact a warning for all those who enjoy themselves a little too much: “Surely I will send it down to you,” it says, “but whosoever shall disbelieve afterwards from among you, surely I will chastise him with a chastisement with which I will not chastise any one among the nations“. (Ch.5:V.116)
Finally, the word ‘Eid means a day in which people gather together, and it is this which gives the Muslim celebration of ‘Eid a much deeper significance. Islam is a religion of unity as it is preeminently of peace and love, unity of God as well as of man. God being One and only One wants to make all men at one with Him, and Islam aims at uniting mankind as a string unites pearls. Every teaching of Islam has at its root this spirit of love, peace and unity. The five daily prayers offered in congregation symbolise unity. There are hundreds and thousands of associations and unions in the world established for the realisation of some common object, but there is not a single institution which holds its meetings five times daily in a manner which expresses the best of love, peace and unity of purpose. Look at the way Muslims stand in prayer: they make lines, the rich and the poor, the high and the low, the master and the servant, the father and the son, the mother and the daughter, all standing in the same way facing the same thing and doing the various movements involved all together and at the same time. By coming in such close contact so often in the day, with the same purpose and object in view, they not only come in contact physically, but are also united mentally and spiritually. Facing towards the Ka’aba also signifies the unity of purpose. To create love, sympathy and affection among men it is necessary that people should see one another, and it is to afford suitable opportunities for this purpose that Muslims are enjoined to pray five times daily by gathering together in their local mosques.
But as it is not easy and practicable for all the Muslims living in a city to assemble five times daily in one place. Therefore, it is taught that they should attend the Friday prayers every week and thus come together and pray together. It was not possible for the neighbouring country people to come every week to the city. Islam appointed two occasions in the year for bringing the inhabitants of a city and its neighbouring country people together, and the ‘Eid-ul-Fitr forms one of them, ‘Eid-ul-Adha being the second. But Islam, being a universal religion, is not confined to a particular locality or city. It is a religion for all mankind. Therefore, in order to unite all men, God has commanded that the Muslims of all the world living in any part of the globe should hold their meeting at the time of Hajj (the pilgrimage) once a year in Makkah, the birthplace of their religion, so that thus worshipping their Lord together they may be afforded the opportunity of discussing and deciding every year matters of international importance with a view to spreading and maintaining peace, amity and goodwill among all men, whatever their colour, race or country. And all this is done in loving obedience to God so that His name alone may be glorified and exalted here below.
It may also be added that if peace were ever required in the world now is the time. The progress of science is uniting men of all countries. The barriers of time and space, once considered absolutely impassable, are broken, conquered and shortened day by day, and the establishment of world-peace is engrossing the attention of all civilised people, and the day is nigh, nay, it is already at hand, when all the world will become as one big city. A scientist prophesied the other day that within 100 years there would be only one language in the world and only onereligion. “The old order changeth yielding place to new,”‘ According to the prophecies of the Holy Qur’an we believe that, Islam will prevail in the end because it surpasses all other religions in its universality. God wants to unite mankind, and for this purpose He has sent a special Messenger at whose blessed hands His wish is to be fulfilled, and to Whom He has given the name of “Prince of Peace.” Let us, therefore, cease from our quarrels and strifes, for it is no time for them. Let us obey God and join the fold of Ahmad who is a servant of the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw), so that we may hasten the coming of the real ‘Eid of world peace and unity for which all the various institutions of Islam are but sign-posts and symbols.