Africa is home to over 5 million people who follow the Islamic faith, with the Middle East and, North Africa (MENA) region having the highest concentration of Muslims worldwide. The majority of the continent’s Muslims live in North, West and East Africa, with over 90% of the population in Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Egypt, Djibouti, Gambia, Senegal, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, Somalia, and Tunisia following the Islamic faith.
Over 70% of the Nigerian population is Muslim, and in Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa, Muslims account for 50%, 33% and 3% of the population, respectively.
Eid al-Fitr is considered as a reward for Muslims who have completed the fasting and spiritual growth period of Ramadan, which is one of the five pillars of Islam. During Ramadan, believers refrain from eating, drinking, and sexual relations from dawn to sunset, and perform additional prayers, especially at night to be conscious and grow closer to God, as well as foster feelings of empathy (for the poor who don’t have food to eat) and goodwill. Ramadan usually lasts for 29 or 30 days, and it ends with the recital of the Takbeer, which is a prayer of praise to God.
After Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr celebrations usually commence with prayer at mosque, followed by sharing meals and gifts with family, friends and the community. “In a nutshell, Eid is filled with lots of eating, visiting with loved ones, and celebrating the end of the wonderful month of Ramadan,” says Cape Town-based blogger and social media influencer, Aneeqah Emeran. “Happiness is felt because we’ll see our families, eat well and be merry,” she adds.
Eid el-Fitr in Egypt is a big celebration that brings those who have been fasting throughout the period of Ramadan together in the streets to pray, eat, sing, and dance. It is a 3-day feast and an official holiday.
Egyptians celebrate Eid al-Adha from 6 a.m. in morning after the end of the fasting period of Ramadan. The celebrations start with early-morning Eid al-Adha prayers at mosque, in which the Imam gives a religious speech on doing good deeds for friends, family, and the community throughout the duration of Eid and the year, followed by the slaughter of cattle to distribute meat among the poor. The slaughter of cattle follows guidelines that include using a sharp knife and positioning the cattle towards the Qiblah, which is the direction of the sacred shrine in Mecca that Muslims also face when praying. The slaughter of cattle can last until the fourth day after Asr prayers.
Family visits are considered as a necessity during the first day of Eid, where sweets and spiced biscuits called kahk are usually offered. A special charity called Sadaqah al-Fitr (or Sadaka) is paid by every Muslim before the end of Ramadan. The Sadaka is then given to the poor to be able to buy new clothes and kahk during the feast.
Besides enjoying festivities in the streets, Egyptians also spend the time at parks, theatres and at beaches like Sharm El Sheikh, a resort town between the Desert of the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea.
Eid is a three-day celebration in Morocco, which commences on the first day of Shawwal after the fasting period of Ramadan. Just before the festivities take place, families also undertake Sadaqah al-Fitr to give, to the poor. Offerings include foodstuffs like rice, barley, and dates.
Eid begins early in the morning with prayer and a sermon at mosque, followed by celebrations with family. Unlike in Egypt where there are family and public celebrations, Moroccans spent Eid with family sharing meals and giving gifts, including buying new clothing and toys for children. Preparations for Eid begin early in the morning, with the father of the household slaughtering a sheep as per the Islamic customs, and women of the household preparing food the night before. Popular dishes include mechoui, which is spit-roasted leg of lamb or shoulder, chicken bastille, which is a traditional chicken pie, and meloui, which are traditional pancakes.
Eid in Nigeria is a two-day celebration which follows after Ramadan. Eid is known as ‘small sallah’ by Nigerian Muslims, and on the first day, Muslims go to mosque for prayer dressed in their new clothes, followed by festivities in the form of sharing meals with family. Children receive gifts from family members and neighbours, and dishes eaten include meat and starches such as rice and amala. Schools close for the duration of Eid celebrations, and along with sharing meals with family and gift-giving to children, the elders of communities organize parties as part of the festivities.
Senegalese Muslims celebrate both Eid al-Fitr, which takes place after Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, which is celebrated 70 days after Ramadan. Eid al-Adha is the bigger celebration in the West African country, known locally as Tabaski.
The Tabaski Festival is not only a massive celebration that brings together families and communities, but it is also a symbol of faith and devotion, as it is based on the story of Prophet Ibrahim’s obedience to God to offer his son, Ishmael, as a sacrifice, and upon being ready to do so, a ram was provided by God as a replacement. Every household has a sheep to slaughter to mark Tabaski, and the government assists with giving those who can’t afford to buy a sheep through the programme ‘Operation Tabaski.’
Tabaski commences after morning prayers, and the Tabaski Feast is prepared and shared by families and communities. People also wear their best clothes as part of the festivities. Tabaski is also celebrated in Gambia, Burkina Faso, and Mali.
After the local mosque recites the Takbeer to declare the end of Ramadan and the commencement of Eid the next day, the women of the household begin with food preparation and spring cleaning, while the men do home maintenance to prepare for a new season, which is also symbolic of Eid.
The day starts early with prayers in a public place, followed by breakfast with family. Afterwards, children in the neighbourhood, dressed in their new clothes, go to different homes chanting ‘Eid Mubarak,’ the traditional greeting meaning ‘blessed celebration’to receive gifts from the elders. A festival at the Makadara Grounds takes place throughout Eid. The Grounds turn into an amusement park for children to enjoy themselves.
Eid celebrations across South Africa vary from family to family and from city to city. Usually when Eid commences, men go to mosque for prayer, and afterwards, the family gathers for breakfast. Socializing and gift-giving to children commences after breakfast, and everyone is dressed in their best clothes as part of the celebration. As is the custom with Eid celebrations, good and hearty food is in abundance. “Celebratory dishes include biryani, seafood paella, roast leg of lamb and grilled seafoods,” Aneeqah Emeran says, of typical dishes found in Cape Town homes for Eid. “These are the dishes that families tend to gravitate towards,” she adds. Eid celebrations last a day.