Ramadan — a month of prayer, patience and perseverance has ended. The month which made me reflect amidst the pandemic about many things in life that I used to take for granted — from a mundane action of going out for a walk to celebratory occasions like Eid Al Fitr.
Similar to the month of Ramadan, this Eid has been reflective as well — but this time it made me identify something that I rarely think about — purpose.
One day before Eid, I was still in Ramadan mode as my circadian rhythm (a fancy word for my sleep schedule) had a tough time going back to sleep since I was so used to (Tahajjud) late-night prayers since the start of the month.
I woke up the next day and I knew it was Eid, the Takbeers (praises of God) started playing on my phone and all the essential Eid items were in place — a good shower, lots of food and the special Eid prayer (although I was not that hungry).
However, I missed what I loved about this celebration — the communal atmosphere and the double-hugging of my fellow brothers in faith at the mosque, like many Muslims worldwide.
I did receive a lot of Eid Mubarak (Happy Eid) messages on WhatsApp and the day ended just like that — and I thought “That’s it?”. The thought kept lingering for a while until the late afternoon.
Once the sun set, as I began to think about ideas to write about Eid, all that came to mind was the presupposed ideas that I had about the occasion. Communal prayers, the various types of food, and the meeting of friends and family and again lots of double-hugging and Eid Mubaraks everywhere— and that was pretty much it to the day.
I remember that every year, the Imam (religious leader) used to give a short Khutbah (speech) on the ways to continue the practices of Ramadan throughout the year and our lives. But that just goes unheard most of the time since the people indulge into pleasantries once the Eid prayer ends and the day would end, usually on that note.
Fitr — a depth of meanings
This pandemic has forced me to rethink and to re-explore the purpose of Eid. As I was digging deep into research, Eid (عيد) usually referred to a celebration like how Christmas is called (عيد الميلاد) or Eid Milaad, but the word Fitr (فطر ) had many meanings.
For example, it referred to something breaking apart. However, the root word also has terms related to the month of Ramadan which includes iftar. Eid Al Fitr is translated in English as the “Festival of Breaking the Fast” — which made sense to me, but it was too obvious. I was searching for something with a deeper meaning that I can reflect on.
Later on, as I was continuing my linguistic quest to find a deeper meaning, I came to know about the word Fitrah which is from the same root F-T-R (ف ط ر) and it referred to natural disposition — something that has been always in human beings. This concept, fitrah (فِطْرَة), was amazing the more and more I thought about it.
This word brought me back to a verse of the Quran which said:
فَأَقِمْ وَجْهَكَ لِلدِّينِ حَنِيفًا ۚ فِطْرَتَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا ۚ لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ – 30:30
So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. [Adhere to] the fitrah of Allah upon which He has created all people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah. That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know — The Holy Quran, 30:30
Al Tabari, one of the greatest pre-modern scholars in Islam, notes that Fitrah is to be the Deen (the way or religion) of Allah.That being said, another verse came to my mind as well which said:
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ – 51:56
And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me. — The Holy Quran, 51:56
Al-Mawdudi notes that this verse refers to the unique characteristics of human beings and jinns — which is to have a choice between worshipping and denying Allah — which no other creature has been given the choice to do so.
He says, in his commentary of the Quran on the verse, the following:
Then, why has it been said only about the jinn and men that He has not created them for the service of others but of Himself? Whereas every single creature is there to serve Allah.
The answer is: Only the jinn and men have been granted the freedom that they may serve Allah within their sphere of choice if they so like; otherwise they can turn away from Allah’s service as well as serve others beside Him.
The rest of the creatures in the world do not have this kind of freedom. They do not have any choice whatsoever that they may not worship and serve Allah, or may serve any other. Therefore, only about the jinn and men, it has been said here that by turning away from the obedience and servitude of their Creator within the bounds of their option and choice and by serving others than the Creator, they are fighting their own nature.
This profound verse and commentary confirms the Fitrah of human beings and therefore outlines our purpose in this world and gives us the freedom of choice to worship or not to worship Allah. This is also exemplified in popular verse of the Quran which says that “there is no compulsion in religion”:
لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ ۖ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ ۚ فَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِن بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ اسْتَمْسَكَ بِالْعُرْوَةِ الْوُثْقَىٰ لَا انفِصَامَ لَهَا ۗ وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ – 2:256
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. — The Holy Quran, 2:256 (Translation — DR. MUSTAFA KHATTAB)
The ultimate purpose of creation — worship
After so much discussion on the word fitr, fitrah, and the Quranic verses relating to the matter, this Eid Al Fitr for me has been the most profound and contemplative Eids that I’ve ever had which have helped me in unearthing depth of meanings that are present within Islam.
Had it not been for COVID-19, maybe I would still be preoccupied with what a typical day of Eid would be like and not give much in-depth thought to what the term Fitr meant or its linguistic depths. It all boils down to the only one thing purpose we human beings were created for — which is worship.
I hope you, the reader of this article, find your purpose in life Insha Allah (God-wiling) as Allah asks:
Did you then think that We had created you without purpose, and that you would never be returned to Us?” — The Holy Quran, 23:115 (Translation — DR. MUSTAFA KHATTAB)
*Different translations have been used to amplify my thoughts. The translations are mentioned when necessary.