What is Eid and how do Muslims celebrate it? 6 questions answered

Editor’s note: Muslims all over the world will begin celebrating Eid al-Fitr, one of the religion’s principal festivals, on or around June 4, 2019. In August, Muslims will celebrate Eid al-Adha. Ken Chitwood, a scholar of global Islam, explains the two Islamic festivals.

1. What is Eid?

Eid literally means a “festival” or “feast” in Arabic. There are two major eids in the Islamic calendar per year – Eid al-Fitr earlier in the year and Eid al-Adha later.

Eid al-Fitr is a three-day-long festival and is known as the “Lesser” or “Smaller Eid” when compared to Eid al-Adha, which is four-days-long and is known as the “Greater Eid.”

2. Why is Eid celebrated twice a year?

The two Eids recognize, celebrate and recall two distinct events that are significant to the story of Islam.

Eid al-Fitr means “the feast of breaking the fast.” The fast, in this instance, is Ramadan, which recalls the revealing of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad and requires Muslims to fast from sunrise to sundown for a month.

Eid al-Adha Mass prayer. Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

3. How do Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr?

Eid al-Fitr features two to three days of celebrations that include special morning prayers. People greet each other with “Eid Mubarak,” meaning “Blessed Eid” and with formal embraces. Sweet dishes are prepared at home and gifts are given to children and to those in need. In addition, Muslims are encouraged to forgive and seek forgiveness. Practices vary from country to country.

In many countries with large Muslim populations, Eid al-Fitr is a national holiday. Schools, offices and businesses are closed so family, friends and neighbors can enjoy the celebrations together. In the U.S. and the U.K., Muslims may request to have the day off from school or work to travel or celebrate with family and friends.

In countries like Egypt and Pakistan, Muslims decorate their homes with lanterns, twinkling lights or flowers. Special food is prepared and friends and family are invited over to celebrate.

Fanous, the colorful lanterns of Ramadan, light up the streets of Amman, Jordan, throughout the holy month of fasting. Ken Chitwood, CC BY
In places like Jordan, with its Muslim majority population, the days before Eid al-Fitr can see a rush at local malls and special “Ramadan markets” as people prepare to exchange gifts on Eid al-Fitr.

In Turkey and in places that were once part of the Ottoman-Turkish empire such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Azerbaijan and the Caucasus, it is also known as the, “Lesser Bayram” or “festival” in Turkish.

4. How do Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha?

The other festival, Eid al-Adha, is the “feast of the sacrifice.” It comes at the end of the Hajj, an annual pilgrimage by millions of Muslims to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is obligatory once in a lifetime, but only for those with means.