In the last few days of Ramadan, my thoughts turn to the real meaning of Eid
The joys and lows of Eid's approach
Only a few days remain of Ramadan, and both euphoria and fatigue are running high. It's a bittersweet time. We're in the middle of the last 10 nights, the nights of power. There is the sadness of Ramadan slipping rapidly away from us. At the same time the physical strain on our bodies is starting to take its toll from the days of fasting and the late nights of food, friendship and prayer. And pulling us through is the excitement of Eid next week.
This mix of emotions and contradictory sentiments are reflected in almost every aspect of Eid itself.
Talk of the celebration that takes place the day after the end of Ramadan usually conjures up images of indulgence. The mirage is one of eating delicious, rich foods during the daytime, once fasting is over. The morning breakfast tables will heave with sweets, savouries and delicacies hurriedly prepared overnight, to welcome back those returning from Eid prayers, and guests who will bring life to decorated homes throughout the day.
But actually I think we should pause for a moment to reflect on how we celebrate this festival of breaking fast after a month dedicated to charitable giving, restraint and empathising with those who have less than we do.
Of course Eid is a celebration, and rightly so. But how do we moderate the extravagance of Eid to avoid making a mockery of the preceding month? I've already planned new Eid clothes for the family and presents for the children. This is part of the pleasure of Eid, but little pinpricks of conscience are unavoidable as I think about how not to squander the spiritual capital accrued during Ramadan, and as I cast my eyes over the pictures of suffering that have accompanied the many charity campaigns that I've seen during this month.
I enjoy maintaining old traditions such as the big family get- together. It gives Eid a sense of grandeur, and it's a joy to watch the children revel in togetherness and festivity in the bosom of the family. But sometimes I wonder if it's time to embrace modernity, take the burden off women and go out to malls for meals, or even go away on holiday to get away from it all. In many countries this is already starting to happen, and with Eid this year during many people's summer break, it's likely to be even more popular.
One of the frustrations of Eid is to decide whether it is a time to give cards and gifts to everyone as a sign of joy and love. Personally, I hate the writing of countless Eid cards, seeking out the latest addresses, and the chore of posting them.
But this is more than compensated for by imagining the smiles when people receive them. I remember you, and you are important to me, is the subtext of my home-designed cards. In many countries today, quick, cheap SMS Eid greetings go viral: I wonder what kind of peak usage the mobile networks record over the days of Eid?
Presents encourage affection. But the increased number and cost of gifts is creating a new worry: is Eid becoming commercialised, just like Christmas? The meaning of Eid as a time of renewal and new beginnings is at risk of being diluted by shopping and shiny trinkets.
The most common and frustrating of all the Eid challenges is the one that creates the greatest tension: which day to celebrate it? In my view, that's the easiest of all the Eid dilemmas to solve: all of them.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk