Ramadan ends this weekend with Eid-al-Fitr, the celebration that concludes the month of daytime fasting by Muslims worldwide. Eid is a time of community and generosity, when neighbors are invited to join in feasts, music and street festivals. Celebrating Eid is something that can be joined by locals and visitors alike—in fact it’s hard not to get swept up in the festivities in many parts of the world. Here’s a sample of how Eid is shared by Muslims around the world, and what to expect if you’re new to the party.
You’ve never had breakfast quite like this before. At sunset on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, crowds gather between the Blue Mosque and historic Hagia Sophia in Sultanahmet Square for iftar, the breaking of the fast of Ramadan (called Ramazan in Turkish).
Bring your own picnic of börek (ultra-flaky yufka pastry stuffed with feta cheese), pick up some watermelon and tea from street vendors, or just hang out by the fountain until some kindly grandmother plies you with sweets. Today you are actually encouraged to have candy for breakfast: Eid al-Fitr is known in Turkey as Şeker Bayramı, or the “candy holiday.”
View over Istanbul’s old city from Ugur’s Airbnb flat
Dinner theater can’t compare to the Sultanahmet Square break-fast show. As night falls and the iftar begins, mosques and minarets are illuminated, the square’s fountain is lit with colored lights, and public Sufi music concerts and whirling dervish ceremonies begin. Kids stay up late, playing marathon games of tag in the square and dragging their parents to Sultanahhmet’s Arasta Bazaar for treats. Pace yourself, because official Bayramı festivities continue for three days—or unofficially, until the candy wears off.
Most of Indonesia’s 203 million Muslims live in Java and Sumatra, but Idul Fitri or Lebaran (as Eid al-Fitr is variously known in Indonesia) is also celebrated by Bali’s sizeable Muslim minority. You can’t miss it: Lebaran kicks off with bedug lebaran, ritual drumming that continues through the last night of Ramadan and breaks out in street parades throughout the week-long celebrations. Bali is festive year-round, but Lebaran brings entire families decked out in holiday finery to parades, parks and street markets selling colorful gift baskets and savory ketupat (coconut-steamed rice).
Ketupat baskets, Bali. Photo by Sakurai Midori.
To show appreciation to newfound Muslim friends in Bali, share your best wishes for the year ahead with a Lebaran greeting card. Besides the standard Lebaran greeting of “Minal ‘aidin wal faizin” (many happy returns), you may see cards saying, “Mohon maaf lahir batin” (please forgive my wrongdoings). After a month of soul-searching during Ramadan, Lebaran is a prime opportunity to make amends with neighbors and extend kind gestures to strangers. During Lebaran, children are lavished with gifts of treats and cash, and major donations are made to local charities. Zakat (charity) is one of the five pillars of Islam, and Indonesians celebrate Eid al-Fitr with such an outpouring of generosity that this year, Indonesian banks had to restock their vaults with 1.5 trillion Indonesian rupiah (about US $129 million) just for Eid al-Fitr.
England may not be the first place you’d think to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, but as of 2014, Muslims represent over 12 percent of the population in London. The Mayor of London personally hosts the city’s public Eid Festival in London’s historic Trafalgar Square–and you’re officially invited. Over the past decade, crowds of up to 50,00 have attended London’s annual Eid celebration, which include a public salah (traditional prayer), iftar (breaking of the fast) and day-long festivities.
Muslim Londoners represent diverse cultural traditions, proudly represented at the Eid Festival by a range of fragrant food stalls, Islamic calligraphy demonstrations, henna hand-painting and David Bowie-esque glam-rock face-painting. English sports rivalries are set aside for Eid in favor of friendly cricket and football exhibition matches. As Trafalgar Square’s fountains glow blue and purple with LED lights, performers ranging from traditional singers of Koranic verses to mashup DJs keep the crowd on its feet. Last to leave the party are a few hopeful pigeons, who don’t seem to realize that feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square was officially banned in 2003.
Celebrations continue over in Mile End Park at Eid Souk, featuring a global bazaar, carnival games, very English Eid tea cakes and bouncy castles worthy of the Queen. New clothes are traditional for Eid, so the souk doubles as a London catwalk for men, women and children modeling the latest in embroidered tunics.
The people of Marrakesh are known across North Africa as the bahja (joyous ones) because they never need an excuse for a party. But the bahja are in rare form on Eid al-Fitr, when celebrations bring three days of music, dancing and feasting to the streets of Marrakesh.
The command center for festive mayhem in Marrakesh is the Djemaa el-Fna, which has kept visitors by camel, caravan and airplane entertained for 1000 years. This desert trading-post plaza was named UNESCO’s first world heritage site for oral traditions in honor of its nightly displays of halqa, or street theater. But during Eid es-Seghir (as Eid al-Fitr is known in Morocco), the usual flocks of acrobats, storytellers and cross-dressing belly-dancers are joined by sacred music performers from across Morocco.
Breakfast at Riad Marrakech, near Djemaa el-Fna
From the south, Gnaoua musicians perform a late-night leila, a marathon musical jam session to thank God for freedom from slavery. The bluesy rhythms induce an ecstatic trance, sending tassled fezzes spinning and bringing on sudden bouts of backflips. Northern musicians play Andalusian sacred music on fiddles and electric lutes, and the crowd urges them to play harder and faster with rhythmic claps—and tips. Be sure to bring change, since generosity is customary on Eid.
Dinner is its own show in the Djemaa, where cooks set up 100 barbecue stalls in the northwest corner nightly. During Eid, the friendly cooking competition heats up into the world’s toughest grilling competition, and you get to be the judge—which hawker’s jokes will reel you in, and which chef’s display of fresh ingredients will win your business? “Fresh lamb from the mountains!” brags one cook. “Anthony Bourdain loves barbecue spleen!” claims another. Put their claims to the taste-test—since restaurants are closed and ingredients fresh for Eid, this is your best bet for dinner.
In America’s first public park, on a hilltop donated by Welsh Quaker Rebecca George and her brother Jesse back in the 1700s, another act of civic generosity is about to take place in the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia’s Muslim community hosts a Unified Eid celebration on George’s Hill in Fairmount Park, serving free food to all and collecting food donations as zakat (alms, or charity) for those in need.
Beyond sharing food and charity for Eid, Philadelphia Muslims are also sharing their stories at New Africa Center’s Muslim American Museum, the first museum dedicated to the history of Islam in the West. African Americans represent the majority population in Philadelphia’s historic Muslim community, which dates from the 1920s in South Philadelphia.
With Philadelphia public radio station WHYY, the New Africa Center is collecting Philadelphia stories in the new Muslim Voices of Philadelphia Project. Many recall the founding of mosques, halal (Muslim-traditional) butchers and grocers, and Muslim learning centers along Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia, where Malcolm X preached and Nation of Islam emerged as a cultural force in the 1950s–60s. Today most of Philadelphia’s 200,000 Muslims follow global Sunni Muslim traditions, and a diverse community of South Asian, Middle Eastern, and fourth-generation American Muslims will celebrate Eid citywide.
Eid mubarak (happy Eid)!