Once the messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was lying with his face covered with a shroud. Two young Ansar girls were beating a daff and were singing martial songs nearby. The companion of the Prophet (PBUH), Abu Bakr, happened to arrive there. Seeing the Prophet (PBUH) asleep, he told the girls with the gesture of his hand, not to sing. As the singing girls obeyed him, the Prophet (PBUH) uncovered his face and said, “O Abu Bakr let them rejoice, this is the day of Eid”

Eidayn or the two Eids, the Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha, are the two major festivals of the Muslims. The word ‘eid’ is derived from the root awd, which means ‘reoccurring’ or ‘returning’. Arab lexicographers mention two sources of this word. One source says that the ‘eid’ is derived from Aramic awd. The other is that it is a derivative from Syric ida, which denotes a festival or a holiday. Eid in its present form justifies both these origins, for it is a reoccurring festival.

Out of the two Eidayn Eid-ul-Fitr is the one which is observed by the Muslims at the end of the holy month of Ramazan, the month of fasting. This Eid marks termination of the fasting period and is, therefore, known as al-Fitr, i.e., breaking of fast. The word aftaar is one of its derivatives. The term aftaar is normally used to declare the completion and breaking of everyday’s fast while fitr implies the conclusion of the fasting period or the month of Ramazan.

The practice of fasting was current in the pre-Arab tribes of Arabia. Fasting has also been considered a holy act in many other religions. As a matter of fact fasting is ordained in all the major divine religions. Amongst the others only the Zoroastrain dogmas prohibit the practice of fasting.

Tough bodily and mental stressful experiences of early man during drought and parching may account for the custom of fasting as a religious technique to end ordeal. Prolonged hunger gives rise to visions and the fast was used for this purpose by the ancient man. Fasting was a fundamental method of acquiring to Tem by Shamans in making contact with spirits by those who consulted the Greek oracles, The Greeks fasted in order to consult their deities for advice and prophecy. The suffering involved in fasting made it a befitting means of expressing penitence, seeking forgiveness or making atonement.

In pre-Islamic days, the fast was almost universal as an expression of mourning and lamentation. It was also used as a means of acquiring supernatural powers. Fasting gave an added efficacy to a rite, and sometimes was combined with other austerities to command or control gods and goddesses. The Greek church, even today, observes four principal fasts: that of Lent 9the period form ash Wednesday to Easter Eve of which 40 days are devoted to fasting and penitence in commemoration of Christ’s fasting in the Wilderness), one beginning in the week after Whitsuntide (15th May and the following tide), one a fortnight before the Assumption (reception of Virgin Mary bodily into Heaven. The feast in honor of this falls on August 15), one 40 days before Christmas (Festival of Christ’s birth celebrated on December 25). The Church of England appoints the following fixed days for fasting and abstinence: (1) the 40 days of Lent; (2) the Ember (the Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays after first Sunday in Lent, after White Sunday, after Holy Cross day, i.e., September 14, and after St. Lucy’s day, December 13); (2) the three rogation days before Holy Thursday; (4) every Friday except Friday falling on Christmas day.

Fasting was required of individuals, of groups, and of the whole community for the avoidance of various hostile influences and natural calamities. Among the religious intermediate development, now extinct, that of the Celts laid some stress on the practice of fasting, while the religion of the Tentons appears to have found little regard for it. The ancient Mexicans Peruvians resembled the Babylonians and Assyrians and fasting was largely used by them in connection with penance and the offering sacrifice. There are clear indications that the ancient Egyptians also observed fasting to please their gods. The Romans appear to have used the practice but little until they came under the influence of the later Greek religion in which fasting was required as one of the basic tenets of their belief. Fasting has been very strongly recommended to individuals by philosophers and metaphysicians of various schools, Cynics, Stoics, Pythagoreans and Platonists.

Hindu and Jaina ascetics are committed by their faiths to very severe fasting in conjunction with numerous other austerities, and abstinence in lesser degree is imposed upon Hindus generally by the requirements of caste law and the performance of due accompaniments of various pilgrimages. Fasts are also kept while Hindus prepare for their various festivals. Buddhism recommends fasting of moderation, not going to the extremes of self-deprivation and self-torture.

The Taoism of China imposed periods of strict fasting upon its professors. Confucianism has followed to practice if it expounded in approving the customary observance of fasting as a prefatory to the worship of patrimonial and hereditary spirits.

Jews are required to fast on the Day of Atonement. For a long time, the Jews observed four other annual fasts appointed during the Babylonian exile to commemorate the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. A fifth day was added subsequently in remembrance of the three days of fast of Esther (Old Testament and Apocrypha). Additional voluntary fasts amongst the individuals were also common. The stricter Jews observed fast on Monday and Thursdays of each month of the Christian era.

All the afore-mentioned practices of fasting were, however, not strictly disciplined. There were no proper definitions of the times of fasting. The time of beginning the fast and breaking it was usually by choice of an individual or a group. There were no uniform principles and no formal methodology of their observance.

The institution of fating (sawm) was systematized and made rational by Islam. In the Quran in sura ii (al-Baqrah), 183, it is enjoined, “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may learn self-restraint”. To Muslims fast is not a means of self-torture. Although it is stricter than other fasts, it also provides alleviations for special circumstances. If it were merely a temporary abstention from food and drink, it would be salutary to many people, who habitually eat and drink to excess. The abstention from food, drink and sex, temporarily, enables the attention to be directed to higher things. This is necessary through prayer (salat), contemplation and acts of charity, but strictly not of the showy nature.

In the same sura in the verse 185, “Ramazan is the month in which was sent down the Quran, as a guide to mankind. “So everyone (of you) who is present at home should spend it in fasting. He (Allah) wants you to complete and glorify Him”. The regulations are again and again coupled with an insistence on two things: (a) the facilities and concessions given, and (b) the spiritual significance of the fast, without which fasting is like a shell without kernel. This is the aspect of fasting which realizes for us the blessings of Ramazan. We, therefore, do not look at it as a source of excruciation, but as a fount of purification.

It remains to be seen that no matter how much the aspect of blessings is incorporated in it, the practice of fasting is by no standards an easy pursuit. Particularly in regions which are hot and arid and where it is difficult to survive without water even for a couple of hours. There is too much of self-restraint and self-discipline involved. A month-long fasting is, therefore, a rigorous trail of human faculties. Having gone through this ordeal for a full one month, muslims rightly feel gratified at the conclusion of Ramazan and hence the rejoicing culminating in the form of Eid-ul-Fitr.

The Muslim calendar has two authentic festivals; the Eid-ul-Fitr, “the festival of breaking the fast”, which falls on Shawwal 1 (immediately after 29 or 30 days of Ramazan); and Eid-ul-Azha or “sacrificial festival”, which falls on the 10th of Dhu’al Hijjah, the last month of Islamic year. A span of two lunar months and nine days separates the two festivals.

The most important feature of the two Eids (Eidayn) is the festival of the public prayers. Following the Sunnah these prayers are normally held outside the city on open stretches of land taken as musallah. Now a days, however, these prayers are conducted almost in every large and small mosque of the town. Salat of both the Eids consists of two rak’ats and contains six additional takbirs. After the Salat-i- Eid, Khutba is held, which is delivered in two parts by the Imam. It should be noted that Salat-i Eid does not follow the usual call for prayers, i.e., Azan and there is no iqama either. Prayers are normally held between the sun-rise and before the sun reaches its zenith, though the recommended time is between sunset (of the last day of Ramazan) and the moment when the sun has reached the vertex of its hemispherical journey next day, i.e., 1 Shawwal.

Festivals of both the Eids last for three or four days. The faithful put on new or at least their best attires. They visit friends and relatives, congratulate and bestow gifts on each other. Eid-ul Fitr is more joyfully celebrated because it marks the end of hardships of fasting (Ramazan). So the ‘minor festival’ (Eid-ul Fitr) has assumed the role of a festival of more pomp and gaiety than the ‘Major festival’ (Eid-ul- Azha).

Eif-ul Fitr and Eid-ul Azha are also known as Eid-ul Saghir (Chhoti Eid and Eid-ul-Kabir (Barri Eid) respectively. They also bear the cognomens of Eid-i Sawayyan and Eid-i Qurban respectively. It is essential that a Muslim should pay Zakat-ul Fitr (fitrana) before the prayers, though payment is also possible after the prayers.

Fitrana has to be paid by all those who possess 52.50 tolas of silver or 7.50 tolas of gold in any form. The rate of fitrana is calculated equal to the value of two kilogrammes of wheat. This is for each person of the family. Father has to pay for his children, women are responsible for their own self only. Minors are exempted.

It is also a sunnah to fast for another six days after the Eid-ul Fitr.

These six days are known as Eid-al Sitta’ or Shash Eid.

There is a vast difference how Eid-ul Fitr is celebrated in Arab countries and in Pakistan and India. Arabs celebrate the whole of Ramazan as a festival. They congratulate each other on the advent o this months. City markets and mosque wear bridal looks. Al major purchases are made during this month. Shops remain open till Sahoor (sehri) time. Streets and bazars hustle with activities of festivity and rejoicing. Eid, on the other hand, is an austere function. Not much is done except offering of prayers and exchange of greetings.

The concept of preparing swayyan (vermicelli’s) dishes is purely of Indo-Pakistan origin. It is neither a Sunnah nor incumbent. It is without any historical background. Any strict adherence to this practice of preparing vermicelli dishes is like a tantamount to a type of bid’ah.