What is Idd ul-Fitr and how do Muslims celebrate it? 6 questions answered

Nairobi Idd

Muslims gather at Sir Ali Muslim club for Eid ul-Fitr prayers which marks the end holy month of Ramadan.  

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Editor’s note: Muslims all over the world are celebrating Idd ul-Fitr, one of the religion’s principal festivals. In July, Muslims will celebrate Idd ul-Adha. Ken Chitwood, a scholar of global Islam, explains the two Islamic festivals.

1. What is Idd?

Idd literally means a “festival” or “feast” in Arabic. There are two major Idds in the Islamic calendar per year – Idd ul-Fitr earlier in the year and Idd ul-Adha later.

Idd ul-Fitr is a three-day-long festival and is known as the “Lesser” or “Smaller Idd” when compared to Idd ul-Adha, which is four-days-long and is known as the “Greater Idd.”

2. Why is Idd celebrated twice a year?

The two Idds recognise, celebrate and recall two distinct events that are significant to the story of Islam.

Idd ul-Fitr means “the feast of breaking the fast.” The fast, in this instance, is Ramadan, which recalls the revealing of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad and requires Muslims to fast from sunrise to sundown for a month.

3. How do Muslims celebrate Idd ul-Fitr?

Idd ul-Fitr features two to three days of celebrations that include special morning prayers. People greet each other with “Idd Mubarak,” meaning “Blessed Idd” and with formal embraces. Sweet dishes are prepared at home and gifts are given to children and to those in need. In addition, Muslims are encouraged to forgive and seek forgiveness. Practices vary from country to country.

In many countries with large Muslim populations, Idd ul-Fitr is a national holiday. Schools, offices and businesses are closed so family, friends and neighbors can enjoy the celebrations together. In the US and the UK, Muslims may request to have the day off from school or work to travel or celebrate with family and friends.

In countries like Egypt and Pakistan, Muslims decorate their homes with lanterns, twinkling lights or flowers. Special food is prepared and friends and family are invited over to celebrate.

In places like Jordan, with its Muslim majority population, the days before Idd ul-Fitr can see a rush at local malls and special “Ramadan markets” as people prepare to exchange gifts on Idd ul-Fitr.

In Turkey and in places that were once part of the Ottoman-Turkish empire such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Azerbaijan and the Caucasus, it is also known as the, “Lesser Bayram” or “festival” in Turkish.

4. How do Muslims celebrate Idd ul-Adha?

The other festival, Idd ul-Adha, is the “feast of the sacrifice.” It comes at the end of the Hajj, an annual pilgrimage by millions of Muslims to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is obligatory once in a lifetime, but only for those with means.

Idd ul-Adha recalls the story of how God commanded Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail as a test of faith. The story, as narrated in the Quran, describes Satan’s attempt to tempt Ibrahim so he would disobey God’s command. Ibrahim, however, remains unmoved and informs Ismail, who is willing to be sacrificed.

But, just as Ibrahim attempts to kill his son, God intervenes and a ram is sacrificed in place of Ismail. During Idd ul-Adha, Muslims slaughter an animal to remember Ibrahim’s sacrifice and remind themselves of the need to submit to the will of God.

5. When are they celebrated?

Idd ul-Fitr is celebrated on the first day of the 10th month in the Islamic calendar.

Idd ul-Adha is celebrated on the 10th day of the final month in the Islamic calendar.

The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, and dates are calculated based on lunar phases. Since the Islamic calendar year is shorter than the solar Gregorian calendar year by 10 to 12 days, the dates for Ramadan and Idd on the Gregorian calendar can vary year by year.

6. What is the spiritual meaning of Idd ul-Fitr?

Idd ul-Fitr, as it follows the fasting of Ramadan, is also seen as a spiritual celebration of Allah’s provision of strength and endurance. 

Amid the reflection and rejoicing, Idd ul-Fitr is a time for charity, known as Zakat ul-Fitr. Idd is meant to be a time of joy and blessing for the entire Muslim community and a time for distributing one’s wealth.

Charity to the poor is a highly emphasised value in Islam. The Quran says,

Believe in Allah and his messenger, and give charity out of the (substance) that Allah has made you heirs of. For those of you who believe and give charity – for them is a great reward.


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