Muslims do not have a formal arrangement for communal eating, although it is considered to be an important aspect of religious practice (like the admirable institution of the langar) but during the month of Ramadhan there is an emphasis on inviting people to share the daily breaking of the fast in homes, mosques and restaurants. These gatherings are often inappropriately described as feasts, which obscures both their simplicity and their purpose of ensuring that no one remains hungry or lonely after fasting all day. The austerities of fasting and the pleasure of sharing meals culminate with the day of Eid, which is a time for celebration and distributing a portion of the good things that we have earned. The head of each household must provide the means to feed one poor person for each family member or guest under his roof on the night before Eid.
We all spend most of our lives earning a living and are often too busy to appreciate how fortunate we are, how much we really have. Twice a year Muslims take time to reflect on this: during the fast in the month of Ramadhan, and then two months later in the pilgrimage season. These are times when they deny themselves luxuries and comfort, dedicating themselves to prayer.
People around us will always do something that we disagree with or find strange, but there are special times when differences are a lot less important than what we can share. Times to put on new clothes, greet friends, family and neighbours. Times to give a little of what has been saved to a favourite charity and have a good time. These are celebrations of repairing relationships that the year has strained and building new links in festivals of grateful sharing.
However, giving and sharing are not limited just to the Eids or specific months or with those close to us. While Muslims own the wealth produced by their labour, they are given many reminders that this ownership is temporary and that the real owner of all things is God. Thus, while free to spend as they please, there is a moral pressure to give more than the obligatory payments of zakat and khums. Men and women must act as agents in the process of distributing the sustenance that God has provided for all mankind. Every day must contain elements of fasting, restraint from over-indulgence and, to be true to the commands of the Qur’an, the needs of neighbours and strangers must not be neglected. This means that Muslims should not be content to say that anyone is welcome to join our celebrations but look beyond the walls of their houses and mosques. Therefore, I invite readers of this brief article to share the happiness of our Eids, grasp the hand of friendship and mutual understanding offered to all during Islamic Awareness Week each November and also thank all those brothers and sisters who pray for mankind.
Sheik Muhammad Amin Evans is Chief Consulting Editor of the “Shia Affairs Journal”