Bangkok, 8 August 2013- In Indonesia, where I grew up, Eid al-Fitr (or Idul Fitri as it’s more commonly known) is a big celebration marked by special food. On this day, all Muslims pray in a designated open space and also give alms to the needy. It is a day where Muslim people celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and like to share in gratitude what they have with others, especially those who are poor. Muslims all over the world celebrate this festival as they end the fasting which they faithfully observed.
The fasting month is a break from the daily routine of fulfilling the physical needs of eating and drinking. It is very challenging to observe a full month of fasting, denying normal bodily needs, while maintaining daily work. Traditionally, all religions have practices of fasting which are related to the awareness of temptations that come between us and God. Fasting is a way to achieve higher values of being with God, submitting to God’s will, and better understanding God’s way. It is also a chance to be more aware of what can stand in a human being’s way to the Creator and toward our fellow beings. At the end of the fast, the joy of celebration, including generosity- sharing and giving alms to the poor- is an expression of restoring this relationship with God, with fellow beings and all creation.
As we celebrate Eid al-Fitr this year, we are reminded of the opposite impact that a lack of grace and generosity in human actions can have on others and on our planet, destroying peaceful relationships. While Syria continues to be in a state of civil war, Egypt’s political situation is also resulting in internal conflict. In this region, Australia recently announced its policy that all asylum seekers arriving there by boat will have no chance of being resettled in Australia as refugees and will instead be sent to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for assessment of their refugee status. The Myanmar refugees still wait for the best solution of their fate following the so-called opening up of Myanmar. Urban refugees still struggle in the midst of decreasing hope of the best solution for their futures. These facts somehow raise questions and pessimism about the world we live in, where conflict and fear of our fellow human beings seems to spread out.
While we celebrate Eid al-Fitr, as the victory over bodily temptations and to show the strength of divine grace and human will, it is also be worthwhile to reflect on issues of intolerance, including homophobia, and conflicts like those in the Middle East, as part of our continuous struggle. This is not to destroy the festive mood but to use the energy of gratitude in the celebration to continue fighting over the temptations that can get in the way of solidarity, tolerance and peaceful coexistence. The energy of being grateful, having good values and an awareness of the synergy of grace and humility, may help us to move forward in creating hospitable relationships with our fellow human beings.
Happy Eid al-Fitr!