Id Ul-Fitr is an Islamic holiday that marks the first day of the month of Shawwal, which immediately follows the month of fasting and prayer during Ramadan.
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In Sri Lanka, most people follow Buddhism, but about 10 percent of the population is Muslim. Muslims have been in Sri Lanka for well over 1,000 years, ever since Arab merchants brought Islam to the coastal regions in the 7th Century A.D. Most Sri Lankan Muslims still live near the coast and are descendants of these Arab merchants and their wives, who were often natives of the island.
Id Ul-Fitr is a day of communal prayer for Muslims and of listening to sermons at local mosques. They also are expected to give some form of charitable donation, usually food, to the poor at this time. Community events, particularly for children, and festive meals are also common, and many travel great distances to attend these celebrations. Donning new clothes, visiting friends and relatives, giving out candy, presents, or “festival money” to children, and sending greeting cards with the words “Eid Mubbarak!” (Blessed Eid!) are further ways of celebrating the day.
After Id Ul-Fitr prayer sessions, often held in large outdoor grounds or arenas if not at a mosque, participants will wish each other “Salaam” (peace), exchange hugs, and otherwise express good will. Id Ul-Fitr is also a day on which to forget about past grudges and quarrels, particularly with other family members.
During the month of Ramadan, the Sri Lankan government accommodates Muslims by allowing them more flexible work schedules. The long daytime fasting and late night snacks can disrupt normal waking and sleeping habits. When Id Ul-Fitr arrives, all of that is past, and a great celebration with massive feasting follows the month-long fast of Ramadan.
If in Sri Lanka for Id Ul-Fitr, some activities you may be interested in include:
- Near the capital city of Colombo, in the town of Galle, you may wish to observe Eid morning prayers at the Galle Face Green or at any of the many mosques and prayer halls scattered throughout the city. Though the date moves on the Gregorian Calendar, Id Ul-Fitr is presently in July, so the weather may be nice and sunny, making it a good day to enjoy local parks and tour the area.
- Visit Adam’s Peak, a site claimed as holy by both Muslims and Buddhists. It is near the town of Balangoda and consists of a large footprint-shaped impression on top of a rocky hill. Muslims claim it is the Prophet Adam’s footprint, while Buddhist naturally suppose it was the foot of Buddha that made it. Muslims think Adam became a giant after leaving paradise for Earth, which explains the footprint’s unusual size. They also think that the teardrop-shaped outline of the island of Sri Lanka resulted from Adam’s tears. At the foot of the mountain, there is a mosque as well.
- If the kids are a little anxious and you need a fun excursion to keep them entertained, try the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in the Sri Lankan village of Pinnawala. Here, orphaned elephants are taken in and newborn elephants are nursed. There are nearly 100 Asian elephants in the herd, which makes it the largest elephant herd in captivity in the world. There is jungle and the Oya River on the grounds, and you can stop to see the elephants bath just off of a nearby highway. Also note that there are restaurants and refreshments on-site.
Visiting Sri Lanka during Id Ul-Fitr will introduce you to some Muslim customs of Sri Lanka’s longstanding Islamic community. It will also give you an opportunity to view some interesting and unique sites and to enjoy the weather and the scenic Sri Lankan countryside.