Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr Traditions
Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr traditions vary across cultures, sects, denominations and individual families. Here’s a list of traditions that are commonly shared by many Muslims.
1. Moon sighting
Muslim holiday dates are determined by a fully lunar calendar. For this reason, moon sighting is a very important tradition. To mark the beginning and end of Ramadan, a new born crescent moon is sighted. If a crescent is there, the festivities begin. If it’s not, festivities begin a day later. Some people follow the Global Moon Sighting method while others adhere to the Local Moon Sighting Method.
2. Pre-dawn meal
The primary tradition of Ramadan is to fast from dawn to sunset. While fasting, all food and drink must be abstained from. For this reason, the pre-dawn meal is taken about an hour to 30 minutes before dawn to ensure some energy in the body before fasting. It’s a highly encouraged tradition and though there’s no condition as to what one should eat, some people prefer to follow Prophetic tradition and have dates with water or milk for their pre-fasting meal (often in addition to other food.)
3. Ramadan drummers
Some people would say that fasting can be especially tough if a pre-fasting meal isn’t taken. The thing is, it’s not always easy to wake up before dawn. That’s where Ramadan drummers come in. For hundreds of years in several Muslim cultures, these drummers have taken to the streets literally playing drums as a means of waking Muslims up so they don’t miss their pre-fasting meal. Now a day for many people, alarm clocks on smartphones simplify matters but many Muslim municipalities still have Ramadan drummers even if just for sake of tradition. You can learn more about Ramadan drummers here. For North American Muslim children who have likely never seen or heard of these drummers, we’re introducing them in a fictitious way in our crafts as a fun symbol to help them visually learn about Ramadan.
4. Sunset dinner
Every night at sunset, a day of fasting comes to an end. Dinner in Ramadan is a festive affair for many families. Ramadan is often personified as an “honourable guest” or a “noble guest” and therefore it’s embedded in many cultures to cook their finest food, perhaps as a gesture of hospitality for their guest. Sometimes, Ramadan is the only time of year a particular food is enjoyed making the month feel more special, kind of like how gingerbread cookies are only enjoyed at Christmas or hot cross buns only at Easter. Each culture has different foods that make an appearance at their iftar (dinner) table. You can learn more about Ramadan’s food traditions in different Muslim cultures through our blog.
5. Eating dates
It’s Prophetic tradition to break fast with dates, as emulated by Prophet Muhammad who would break fast with dates. Dates are also traditional for the pre-fasting meal and for Eid day, where many people again try to emulate Prophetic tradition and eat a few dates before heading out to Eid prayers. You can read more about this tradition here.
6. Night prayers
By the word “prayers” in this context, we’re referring to the cycles of standing, bowing and prostration that Muslims perform. Night prayers are optional prayers in addition to the daily 5 prayers prescribed by Islam. These night prayers are a tradition mainly amongst Sunni Muslims, who comprise an overwhelming majority of the global Muslim population.* In some languages these are referred to as “tarawih” prayers, from an Arabic root word meaning to “rest” because a few minutes rest is given after performing a certain amount of prayer cycles. Each night of Ramadan these prayers are performed in congregation and take about an hour to complete. The point is to recite the whole Quran in these congregational prayers during the standing parts of the cycle. The Quran is divided into 30 parts and on each night one part, or a little more than one part, is recited so that the whole Quran can be finished in 30 days, or a little less. This is done because Ramadan is the month when the first words of the Quran were revealed so a whole recitation of the Quran in Ramadan seems befitting. These prayers are an enjoyable affair for many people because the Quran was revealed as rhyming poetry and when recited it sounds like you’re listening to a “song”.
* According to a 2009 Pew Research Center Report, 10-12% of the global Muslim population identifies as Shia.
7. Night of Power
The Night of Power is considered the holiest night of the year for Muslims. Historically, it was on this night that the first words of the Quran were revealed and thus Islam, as a formal religion, began. The Night of Power occurs in the last third of Ramadan but it’s exact date is a mystery. One must search for the Night of Power in the odd numbered nights of the last third of Ramadan, meaning the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th and 29th nights. Culturally though, some believe that the 27th night is the Night of Power. The reason why the Night of Power is important to people is because Islam is based on the principle of earning your own salvation, there’s no concept of a saviour. On the Day of Judgment, if a person’s good deeds are more than their sins, they enter Paradise. The Night of Power is an opportunity to remove sins from a person’s record by asking forgiveness for them and collect 1000 months (that’s 83 years!) worth of good deeds at the same time. The Quran also describes this night as a peaceful one in which rows and rows of angels descend to Earth, including arch-angel Gabriel. God comes down to the lowest portion of the heavens for a longer time than every other night and Muslims spend this time making wishes and prayers for God to grant them whatever they’re looking to seek.
8. Eid prayer
On the first day of Eid, a sermon takes place in the morning followed by a special congregational prayer. While en route to the congregational prayer, a special Eid chant is recited over and over till the place of prayer is reached. This prayer is performed in a slightly different format than everyday prayers.
On Eid day, Zakat, the third of the 5 pillars of Islam is offered. Zakat is an annual charity paid by adult Muslims on 2.5% of their wealth if their wealth is enough to qualify for zakat. The money is then used to meet the needs of the less fortunate in society.
10. Eid greetings
After Eid prayers are performed, people wish each other with Eid greetings. They also use these special greetings when seeing their friends and family throughout the day, the same way that one would use “Merry Christmas” on Christmas Day. Eid greetings vary based on culture and language. One that is commonly used in North America is “Eid Mubarak”, meaning “blessed festival.” Sometimes cheek kisses or hugs are part of the Eid greeting as well. You can read more about cheeks kisses and hugs on Eid here.
11. New clothes
On Eid day, Muslims celebrate by wearing new clothes to Eid prayers or their best set of clothes, if new clothes aren’t possible. The new outfits are then typically worn for the rest of the day too while attending parties and gatherings. The type of new clothes and accessories a person opts for depends on their culture. Some people also like to apply some traditional perfumes to their clothes on this day, like sandalwood for example.
12. Gifts and money
Traditionally, children receive money on Eid. In some languages this money is called “Eidi”. It’s a tradition similar to trick-or-treating where children go from house to house (or go up to every adult at a house party) and collect a little bit of cash from everyone. At the end of the night, they count how much they’ve collected and plan what they’ll spend it on. In North America, the tradition has evolved and perhaps as a response to Christmas, wrapped gifts are more popular for children on Eid instead of money. A blog post on this tradition is here.
Muslim holidays follow the principle of “work hard, play hard.” After working hard for a whole month in Ramadan, Eid is a time to dig into some good food and enjoy the moment. Every Muslim culture has their own take on Eid food but you can bet there will always be some special Eid sweets. Sweets are central to any celebration in any religion or culture and Eid is no exception. In Muslim cultures, sweets are regarded particularly favourably since the Prophet Muhammad was very fond of sweets like honey and dates; on Eid, each culture puts forth their best sweets (check out this colourful cake from Malaysia). In fact, in some Muslim cultures, like with Turkish and Pakistani folk, sweets are so prominent for Eid Al-Fitr that the holiday itself is known as the “Sugar Feast” or the “Sweet Feast” (in contrast to Eid Al-Adha which features more savoury meat dishes.) The same way that English prefers the Arabic name for this holiday by using Eid Al Fitr, Dutch and German languages prefer the Turkish name for this holiday and call it Suikerfest (Dutch) and Zuckerfest (German) which both translate to “Sugar Feast”.
14. Remembering friends and family
Eid is a time to connect with friends and family and enjoy each other’s company. People spend Eid day hosting or attending breakfasts, brunches, lunches, dinners and open houses, very much the same way people spend Christmas Day. Eid is also a time of year to remember friends and family who have passed on. Visits to graveyards are traditional on Eid. Though in Muslim countries people might host or attend holiday parties for three consecutive days (since Eid is a three day festival), in North America people usually have to return back to work or school after the first day of Eid. The other two days might not get as much attention from North American Muslims who perhaps have to shift their holiday plans to the weekend if Eid happens to fall on a weekday.
Did we miss a tradition that you feel is common to almost all Muslim cultures? Let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line “Traditions”.
Hajj and Eid Al-Adha Traditions
Stay tuned for our list of Hajj and Eid Al-Adha traditions!