Chaplain’s Corner: Celebrating gratitude on Eid al-Fitr

Sidra Mahmood

With the weather warming up, especially with last week’s unexpectedly high temperatures, you may have seen your Muslim friends visibly looking dehydrated and worn out by the end of the day. Most of us have been fasting from dawn to sunset for the last 27 days of Ramadan. I was personally asked by a genuinely concerned colleague, “Not even water? Isn’t that bad for you?” 

On the other hand, Muslim students have confided in me that sympathetic responses upon sharing that they are fasting in Ramadan aren’t always affirming. Rather, they expect their fasting to be seen by others as a regular ritual act of worship that is so beloved to them that they observe it over and over again for 29 or 30 days (depending on the lunar cycle) every year of their lives. 

I wrote in my previous piece that Ramadan is a time of spiritual introspection and reflection. It is a time to cut off our short-term material comforts such as food and drink to direct our focus on the Divine. It is a season of giving when Muslims often dispense their annual obligatory almsgiving, zakat, and increase their sadaqa, voluntary charity. Ramadan is when we aim to distance ourselves from being dependent on our resources by recognizing that everything is a means to an end, while God is the Provider and Sustainer of all creatures in this world and beyond.

Arriving at the well-resourced Williams College after serving as a healthcare chaplain in inner-city hospitals across Phoenix, Ariz., where I directly witnessed disparities and the suffering of underprivileged Native American, Black, and Latinx communities has been quite challenging for my spiritual heart. I recall the case from about two years ago of a Hispanic woman whose spouse died from COVID-19. Instead of having the opportunity to mourn and grieve, the woman’s immediate concern was to collect $900 for her spouse’s cremation. Unfortunately, as hospital staff, we could not help her directly but only point her to the appropriate “resources.” We are surrounded by an abundance of resources at the College. However, gratitude is a word I have rarely heard in my limited time here.

And remember when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will certainly give you more.’ – Quran 14:7

In two days, Muslims will be celebrating the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which translates to “festival of delivering the fast.” The word fitr correlates to iftar, or delivering the fast to the Divine. With the same Arabic root words, fa-ta-ra, fitra is the innate goodness Muslims believe all human beings are born with, while Al-Fātir, The Originator, is one of God’s divine names. 

In essence, Eid is a celebration of gratitude for being able to complete the month of Ramadan and hopefully, accomplishing the task of breaking our old unhealthy patterns, actualizing our fitra, and returning to the origin of everything, God. Our gratitude again manifests by taking care of the underprivileged where it is the obligation of every Muslim to pay zakat al-fitr — charity of one sa‘ (four double-handfuls) of dates or one sa‘ of barley, or the equivalent, to poor Muslims before the day of Eid, so they too can celebrate Eid without having to worry about their basic material needs. 

Eid is a time of communal gratitude. The Prophet, peace be upon him, encouraged everyone, especially women in his society who often did not participate in public gatherings, to come out and participate in the Eid gathering even if it meant that they would borrow or share an outer garment if they did not have one themselves. This year, Eid is also falling on a Friday, the sacred day of Jummah prayers which the Prophet, peace be upon him, also referred to as an Eid. Thus, this Eid al-Fitr is doubly special, and we are encouraged to bathe, apply perfume, and wear our best clothing when we come to pray.

In the spirit of Eid, I encourage all of you to join your Muslim friends this Friday, April 21, at 8 a.m. in the tent outside Bascom House. Bilal Ansari will be leading the prayers and giving the Eid sermon. There will be local and ethnic sweets from various Muslim cultures after the prayers that should conclude by 8:30 a.m. The Muslim students will later on also gather for Jummah at 1 p.m. in the Muslim Prayer Room in Thompson Memorial Chapel that you are also welcome to join.

As you prepare for exams, it may seem difficult to cope with the stress everyone seems to be drowning in during the final stretch of the semester. For some of you, it is the last semester of your college career, while others have exciting plans lined up for the summer. Hold on tightly to gratitude for what you have, while being especially mindful of those who perhaps do not even have an iota of the opportunities that we take for granted. Just like Muslims who strive physically, emotionally, and spiritually for an entire month and celebrate Eid thereafter, there’s a beautiful ending that is waiting for all of us. Insha’Allah, God willing.

Sidra Mahmood is the College’s Muslim Chaplain.