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Celebrating Eid ul Fitr: a festive end to a weeks-long fast

At 6:34pm the finished diners begin to stand up and take their bowls and plates to be washed before heading into the mosque for evening prayers. The crowd is a mix. Middle-aged bearded men chat to clean-cut university students. Small children climb exposed brick walls and rusted gates.
At 6:34pm the finished diners begin to stand up and take their bowls and plates to be washed before heading into the mosque for evening prayers. The crowd is a mix. Middle-aged bearded men chat to clean-cut university students. Small children climb exposed brick walls and rusted gates. SCOTT HOWES

Celebrating Eid ul Fitr: a festive end to a weeks-long fast

Last Thursday, all over the world, followers of Islam celebrated Eid ul Fitr, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. In Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar peninsula, the spiritual centre for Cambodia’s multitude of Muslims, the festival is marked as a community. Photos by Scott Howes and Hong Menea.

The fast

Before the feast of Eid ul Fitr come weeks of fasting: Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam. For weeks, from dawn until sunset, Muslims must not let any food or drink pass their lips. Not even water.

Each day at Al Rahmah Mosque, near to the Japanese Bridge, some 250 people gather to share the communal iftar, “sunset meal” in Arabic, which is only eaten after sundown.

Sometimes it is a simple meal of soup, but as the lead-up to Eid intensifies the dishes get more elaborate, according to attendee Sob Mizy, 29.

He works for an environmental social enterprise and lives a minute’s walk from Al Rahmah with his wife and two-year-old daughter. They stay at home: no women attend the iftar at the mosque. According to Sob, there is simply not enough space. Instead they eat at home with their children. The practice varies across the globe, depending on the mosque.

At Al Rahmah, one evening a few days before Eid, Sob waits for the sun to set.

During Ramadan Muslims cook food that is soft on their stomach to eat as their daily meal, like porridge, soft drink, dessert, and fruit. But for Eid, the menu changes dramatically. Here, the gathering enjoys chicken and bread. HONG MENEA
During Ramadan Muslims cook food that is soft on their stomach to eat as their daily meal, like porridge, soft drink, dessert, and fruit. But for Eid, the menu changes dramatically. Here, the gathering enjoys chicken and bread. HONG MENEA

Some of the crowd wear taqiyah, a short rounded cap, others wear turbans. Some arrive in white cotton from head to toe, while others come straight from work in black trousers and checked shirts.

In the morning a cow was slaughtered and tonight those gathered will eat grilled beef and a long bean, cucumber and carrot salad.

“On special days the mosque spends almost $500 on the communal dinner. On a more regular basis we spend $100 to $200,” says Sob, adding it is sometimes hard for the imam to find the money to provide worshippers with iftar as the mosque relies solely on donations. from Muslims locally and abroad. CHLOE CANN

The feast

Outside Rattanak Ly’s house young Muslim children play with firecrackers to celebrate the arrival of Eid ul Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

Rattanak, 27, a local NGO worker, has opened his home to friends and neighbours to celebrate the religious holiday.

“Today is like the beginning of a new year for Muslims, so people walk around and ask for forgiveness from each other,” says Rattanak.

Rattanak’s traditional wooden house is close to the Nurunnayeem Mosque on National Highway 5, where many Muslims go to pray. Inside Rattanak’s living room there is a diverse range of people – Muslims, non-Muslims, Khmer and foreigners – but everyone sits on mats on the floor and together they tuck into fragrant chicken curry with crusty baguettes.

It’s an indulgent meal after weeks of fasting. Not that anyone will admit it was a tough time.

Of the fast, Man Savy, 61, Rattanak’s mother, said, “At first it’s a bit different, but since we worship, we don’t crave food. It’s just different in that we don’t have much energy, but since I always stay at home, it seems normal to me.”

Food aside, there is another important facet of the Eid celebration: Zakat ul Fitr or the principle of giving to those less fortunate.

All Muslims who can afford to donate must take part in this, another of the five pillars of Islam. Charitable donations can include money, clothes or food.

It’s a way to redistribute wealth and encourage empathy. MOLYAKA ROM AND VANDY MUONG

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