Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Baghdadis Celebrate Eid-al-Fitr Openly in the Streets

Eid al-Fitr, the festival of the breaking of the fast, begins with the sighting of the first crescent of the new moon of Shawwal, the 10th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. For the world's 1.4 billion Muslims, Eid al-Fitr celebrates the end of dawn-to-dusk fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

Traditionally, the 3-day Eid celebration begins on the morning after the crescent moon is sighted. However, the sighting of the Shawwal moon varies for different sects of Islam and in different parts of the world. For most Sunnis, including those of Iraq, Eid began last Tuesday after religious authorities in Saudi Arabia reported seeing the rise of the Shawwal moon. But for Sunni Muslims who live far beyond the Arabian pennisula and who look to Islamic scholars in their respective countires, from Indonesia to the United States, the sighting of the Shawwal moon came a day or two later. The Grand Ayatollahs of most Shiites sighted the Shawwal moon on Tuesday, so most Shiites began their 3 days of celebration last Wednesday.

For the Muslims of Iraq, Shiite and Sunni, this year’s Eid festivities come at the end of the most peaceful Ramadan season since 2006. This confirms the hopeful optimism of many Iraqis which I shared with you at the beginning of Ramadan.

Attacks in Iraq are down 83% since 2007 which emboldened many Iraqis to observe Ramadan and celebrate Eid as they have during more peaceful times. According to AFP, the U.S. commander for Baghdad Major General Jeffery Hammond reports: the first 21 days of Ramadan saw just 60 attacks compared with 600 in 2007 and 800 in 2006 -- the year when sectarian violence erupted across Iraq. Baghdadis flocked to local parks and public squares to celebrate Eid in the open air.

Of course there are still cement barricades, security check points, and other daily reminders of ongoing dangers to public safety. At Baghdad's al-Zawra park, armed guards patrolled the perimeter and families received full body pat-downs before entering. The decision to venture beyond the walls of their homes remains a wary one for many Iraqis. Um Abdullah, a teacher in Baghdad, told the Washington Post: "There is a kind of inner conflict" about whether to risk going outside. But ultimately she decided that this year: "We should go outside and live."

Although safer than recent years, Ramadan did not pass without incident. Five bombing attacks shook the streets of Baghdad on September 28th, killing dozens of innocent civilians. Yet for this year's Eid, the bloodshed was not enough to deter Baghdad’s National Theatre from showing its first nighttime performance since the invasion. Even after a car bomb killed three people across the street two hours before the opening curtain, the Theatre defied the terrorist violence and managed to open as scheduled. Salam Mijbil, a Theatre official, proudly proclaimed:
"We cannot let the terrorists control us. This bombing is the wind of hate. We will resist this wind and not buckle."
Other signs of Iraqi resilience and determination eased apprehension throughout Baghdad during Eid as well. There were children playing games in the parks, Iraqis enjoying rides on a local Ferris wheel and people lining up to buy ice cream. Some women even felt safe enough to dress in the knee length skirts they commonly wore before the war began.

However, not all Iraqis were able to celebrate without inhibition or sorrow. For many, the tragedy of war and the absence of loved ones forced to flee tainted the festivities. Since the U.S. led invasion in 2003, far too many Iraqis have lost their lives and millions have been forced to flee their homes, leaving many Eid al-Fitr dinner tables with empty seats. According to Abu Muhammad, an Iraqi journalist whose relatives have sought refuge abroad:
“We can't feel this is Eid. It's Eid when you're with your family."
Photo Caption: Muslims start celebrating Eid al-Fitr
October 12, 2007: muslimstoday

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