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Feasting, fasting in holy month

india Updated: Oct 25, 2006 14:44 IST
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What is Id-ul-Fitr?
Id-ul-Fitr is celebrated on the first day of Shawaal, the 10th lunar month of the Islamic calendar, after the month of Ramzan ends. Id means recurring happiness or festivity. Coming with the new moon, the occasion also marks the culmination of the month when the holy Quran was first revealed.

How is Id celebrated?
The devout bathe in the morning, wear new or clean clothes, apply perfume and eat dates or other sweets before going to the mosque for the Id prayers. According to the Quran, Muslims must offer Id prayers with his breathern in full faith. Before the prayers, all Muslims must pay Zakat al Fitr — alms for the month of Ramzan — to a worthy charity.

Which are the major Muslim sects?
There are two — Sunnis and Shiites. Majority of the world’s Muslim population follow the Sunni branch of Islam, while about 15 per cent of Muslims are Shiites. The differences in the sects are rooted in disagreements over the succession to Prophet Mohammed, who died in 632 AD. Bohras, on the other hand, adhere to the Shia Fatimi tradition of Islam headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin.

The Dawoodi Bohras are a unique denomination of Indian Muslims, mostly settled in Gujarat and Mumbai, numbering 1 million around the globe. They trace their spiritual ancestry to early conversions to Ismaili Shiism during the reign of the Fatimid caliph-imam al-Mustansir.

When cracks appeared in the Ismaili dawah (mission) in the 11th and 12th centuries in Egypt, the Ismailis in India followed the Fatimi Tayyibi dawah of Yemen. Subsequently, this community split a number of times to form the Jafari Bohras, Daudi Bohras, Sulaymani Bohras, Aliyah Bohras, and other lesser-known groups.

Why do various sects celebrate Id on different days?
While some Muslims depend on the local sighting of the moon, others depend on a sighting by authorities somewhere in the Muslim world. Both are valid Islamic practices, but this leads to different starting days for the months. The Bohra community, on the other hand, does not follow moon sighting, but a pre-calculated calendar based on a cycle of 30 Islamic years.

The accumulated error in this pre-calculated calendar is about one hour per century. This, together with the cyclic variations in the behaviour of the lunar orbit, can bring the Bohra dates two days earlier than those governed by crescent visibility.

In India, who sights the moon and gives the call to celebrate Id?
Every state has its own moon sighting authority. In Maharashtra, the Hilal Committee, comprising maulvis, do the job. The Delhi-based Jama Masjid call regarding the moon sighting is restricted only to the place. According to Maulana Mehboob Daryabadi of the Shia Hilal committee, if it does not sight the moon, then it has to rely on witnesses.

At least two members of the Sunni sect, on sighting the crescent moon, have to appear before the Hilal or Chand committee with the chief and give witness. Only after their testimony is accepted, will the committee declare the timing of sighting the moon. If, for some reason, the moon is not sighted at all, followers are asked to carry on their fast till the 30th day and celebrate Id on the 31st day of the month.