After the month-long fasting period of Ramadaan, Muslims in South Africa observe Eid-ul-Fitr today. Picture: Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA)
Today (like yesterday) almost 2.1 billion Muslims across the globe celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr - a third of that number are from the African continent.

Eid signifies the end of Ramadaan, the obligatory month-long fasting period where Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. The time is devoted to increased prayer, charity and the avoidance of all immoral activities.

The day of Eid starts early with huge prayer gatherings at open grounds and at mosques across the country.

After the communal prayer, which ends with a sermon, families visit and embrace each other, signifying unity and brotherhood. Gifts are exchanged and there is a festive mood all round.

Afterwards families sit down to a huge feast. South African families of Indian origin usually prepare breyani while hundreds of thousands of African Muslim immigrants and refugees in South Africa usually prepare a rice and meat dish.

Over and above the normal charity given in Ramadaan, Muslims have to ensure the needy join in on the celebrations. A special contribution in cash, or food parcels, is collected by charity organisations well in advance and distributed.

On the day of Eid, Muslim charitable bodies feed tens of thousands, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, at several townships across the country.

Hundreds of giant pots of food are prepared and planning is done with military precision. An army of volunteers signs up for the food distribution.

In all Muslim countries, Eid is a three-day public holiday. This includes the Muslim-dominant countries of North Africa such as Egypt, Western Sahara, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Morocco. In East and West Africa, predominantly Islamic countries and territories that would observe a three-day holiday include Djibouti, Sudan,The Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Somalia and Zanzibar.

Eight-year-old Hamzah and his sister Hannah Iman Oomar, 4, are looking forward to celebrating with their family and friends and indulging in some sweetmeats. Picture: Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA)

South Africa has a significant Muslim migrant population. One immigrant, Abdulla Saeed, 29, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said he came to South Africa looking for a better life. He had no family here. He lives in Durban and ekes out a living selling cellphone accessories.

“I’m looking forward to Eid, but it will also be a sad moment because I can’t spend this special time with my elderly parents and the rest of my family. Fortunately, I have many Congolese Muslim friends here and that will help me cope with the loneliness.”

Around the world, this Ramadaan has been a painful time for Muslims.

In Palestine scores have been killed protesting against Israeli occupation, and demanding their right to return to the land their families were expelled from over seven decades ago. And shockingly, the Israeli forces continue their brutality. But this will not deter justice-loving people around the world from intensifying their commitment and solidarity with the oppressed in Palestine.

In Sudan, a violent crackdown on protesters continued even on the eve of Eid. After the removal of Omar al-Bashir, the fight for democracy continues as the Transitional Military Council refuses to give in to the protesters’ demand to hand over power to a civilian-led government. Protests continue and many have been killed.

In other parts of the world, acts of extremism continue. The overwhelming majority of Muslims reject violence and extremism. They contribute, in very meaningful ways, to the societies in which they live.

Key to their understanding is the recognition that they live in a plural context and that harmonious co- existence, despite the complex diversity of this world, is possible. While enjoying the festivities of Eid, this reflection would be important.

The spirit of Eid is also about consolidating and celebrating friendships and familial bonds. A wonderful and joyous day after a month-long fast!

* Buccus is a senior research associate at ASRI, a research fellow in the School of Sciences at UKZN and academic director of a study-abroad programme.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Mercury