When Ramadan is over, Muslims celebrate with a feast that lasts three days. Since the idea of a feast is associated in people’s minds with playing games, fun and enjoyment, as well as having much to eat, it may seem to an outsider that this is a strange way of ending a season of worship such as Ramadan.
After having gone through a whole month of fasting as well as night worship, it seems very odd that people should go on the loose, as it were, to have as much enjoyment as they can. To this we reply that Islamic feasts are so different from that. While retaining the aspect of happiness and enjoyment, moderation is a very essential aspect of celebrating these feasts, just as it is an essential aspect of Islamic life. Moreover, in Islam even feasts are so oriented that we celebrate them hoping for reward from God.
When the first Muslim community came into existence in Madinah and was able to conduct its affairs as it pleased, the Prophet (peace be upon him) set about changing the attitudes of his followers toward every aspect of life on both the individual and social levels. Anas ibn Malik, a companion of the Prophet, reports that when God’s messenger (peace be upon him) settled in Madinah its people had two days a year to celebrate and enjoy themselves. He said to them: “God, blessed and sublime be He, has substituted them for you with two better days: the day ending the fast and the day of sacrifice.” (Related by Ahmad, Al-Nassaie, Al-Tirmidhi and others.)
The idea of changing attitudes is apparent in the fact that those two days which were celebrated by the people of Madinah in their pre-Islamic days did not have any particular significance other than the fact that they signaled the advent of spring and the end of the summer. What was celebrated in them was simply temperate weather.
The Prophet replaced that with a celebration of two great occasions. In the first one, those of us who have gone through the duty of fasting throughout the month of Ramadan, abandoning everything which could stain the pure image of complete dedication to God which fasting inspires, know that the prize they receive as reward for their dedication is forgiveness of their past sins. The Prophet makes it clear that when one fasts, motivated only by his faith, and in response to God’s order, he is certain to be forgiven whatever sins he might have committed in the preceding 11 months. Winning such a prize calls for a fitting celebration.
Similarly, the day of sacrifice follows the completion of the great duty of attending at Arafat during the pilgrimage. It is well known that when completing the pilgrimage a Muslim is granted forgiveness of all his past sins. Again, this is an occasion to celebrate.
Our celebration of a feast begins with a prayer. It was the practice of the Prophet that this prayer should be offered in the open space outside the city. This gives a chance to all people in the city to attend that prayer and meet their fellow Muslims afterward, offering them their congratulations on having completed the duty of fasting in Ramadan and praying to God to accept their worship and reward them for it.
Since the feast is common to all, the Prophet’s guidance was that women and children should also attend the Eid prayer, which begins the feast. Several Hadiths mention this, the most authentic of which is that reported by Umm Atiyyah, a companion of the Prophet who said: “The messenger of God (peace be upon him) bid us allow young unmarried women, even those who were in the period, to attend the Eid prayer on the day ending the fast and on the day of sacrifice. Those who were in the period did not join the prayer although they participated in praising God and the general supplication to Him. He was asked about a woman who might not have a dress suitable for going out, and he answered: ‘Let her sister give her one to wear.’” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad and others.)
The fact that even women in their period were bid by the Prophet to attend the Eid prayers, although they could not pray shows that the Prophet was keen that everyone should be fully aware of what sort of occasion an Islamic feast is. We have to remember that the Eid prayer is not obligatory although this Hadith shows its great importance, which we note in the fact that women who could not pray were supposed to go and stand by so as to participate in the other aspects of worship in which they are allowed to take part.
The Prophet stresses the social aspect in this particular prayer, which is vividly apparent in the fact that women are urged to attend it, although they are exempt from attending the obligatory Friday prayer. Cooperation in the Muslim community is stressed in the fact that women are encouraged to lend their dresses and coats to those who do not have suitable garments in which to go out for prayers.
The Prophet also teaches us that we should prepare for this occasion with taking a bath, using perfume and selecting our best clothes. All these are signs of a good and healthy celebration. Moreover, the Prophet went out to prayer outside the town using one route, and came back using a different route. This served more than one purpose.
By doing so, he met different people on each way, greeting them and offering congratulations. He was also able to answer any questions put to him by as many people as possible. He also publicized the occasion in a way, which distressed the hypocrites as they realized that Islam had a large following and also demonstrated that the Muslims were strong enough to practice their religion in total freedom. Following the Prophet’s practice will serve at least some of these purposes, no matter in what condition or situation the Muslim community finds itself at any particular time.