Eid a good time to consider extremism and its lack of virtue
TODAY and tomorrow, almost 2.1 billion Muslims worldwide celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr – a third from Africa – to mark the end of the month-long fasting of Ramadaan.
Depending on the sighting of the new moon that ushers in the Islamic lunar month of Shawaal, Muslims in South Africa celebrate Eid today or tomorrow. Eid signifies the end of Ramadaan, the month-long fasting period in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. The time is devoted to increased prayer, charity and the avoidance of immoral activities.
The day of Eid starts early in the morning, with prayer gatherings at open grounds and at mosques across the country. Afterwards, families visit and embrace each other, signifying unity and brotherhood. Gifts are exchanged in a festive mood. Then families sit down to enjoy a feast together.
Over and above the normal charity given in Ramadaan, Muslims have to ensure the needy join in the celebrations. A special contribution in cash or food parcels is collected by charity organisations well in advance and distributed.
In Durban, Muslim charitable bodies feed tens of thousands, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, on Eid day at several townships.
In all Muslim countries, Eid is a three-day public holiday. This includes the Muslim-dominant countries of North Africa, such as Egypt, Western Sahara, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Morocco. In East and West Africa, predominantly Islamic countries which would observe a three-day holiday include Djibouti, Sudan, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Somalia and Zanzibar.
South Africa has a significant Muslim immigrant population. Abdulla Saeed, 27, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said he had come to South Africa looking for a better life. He lives in Durban and ekes out a living selling cellphone accessories.
“I am looking forward to Eid, but it will also be sad because I cannot spend this special time with my elderly parents and the rest of my family. Fortunately, I have Congolese Muslim friends here, which will help me cope with the loneliness.”
This Ramadaan has been a painful time for Muslims. In Baghdad, 38 people were killed on the fourth day of Ramadaan. A day later, a bomb in Afghanistan killed 90 people and knife attacks in London claimed the lives of seven and wounded almost 50.
On the day of Eid, Muslims will also reflect on how the extremist madness needs to stop. These acts of wanton violence and barbarism are contrary to the teachings of Islam.
Leading South African Muslim scholars such as Dr Rashied Omar have reminded us that religious extremism has no virtue in Islam.
It is unequivocally condemned by the Prophet of Islam (Peace be upon Him), who is reported, in a tradition, to have declared thrice: “The extremists shall perish.”
It is important to remember that only a tiny minority of Muslims in the world are extremists.
Extremism grew in response to the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the brutality of these armies in Muslim countries. All this points us to a need for an understanding of Islam, perhaps a “progressive Islam”, in which extremism has no place.
The overwhelming number of victims in the terror attacks during Ramadaan were Muslims. The overwhelmingly majority of Muslims reject extremism and contribute in meaningful ways to the societies in which they live.
Key to their understanding is the recognition that they live in a plural context and that harmonious co-existence, despite the world’s complex diversity, is possible. While enjoying the festivities of Eid, this reflection will be important.
Buccus is a senior research associate at the Auwal SocioEconomic Research Institute, a research fellow in UKZN’s School of Sciences and the academic director of a university study abroad programme on political transformation.