Almost every nation has religious festivals to commemorate important events in their history or to celebrate special occasions.
There are two religious festivals in Islam, ‘Id al-Fitr, the festival of the breaking of the fast at the end of the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from dawn until sunset. ‘Id al- Adha, the festival of sacrifice, comes on the tenth of Dhu’l-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic year in which the pilgrimage is performed. Both festivals enjoy a very special place in the life of Muslims and leave indelible impressions on the culture of Muslim peoples.
Religious festivals for Muslims are times of deepened Islamic thoughts and feelings when memories of a long and honourable past are revived, recalled and ‘lived’ afresh with all their joys and sorrows.
Religious festivals are, for Muslims, occasions of paradoxical feelings – pangs of separation and hopes of re-union, regrets and expectations, and joys and sorrows. While, on the one hand, they feel sadness over losses in either individual or national spheres, on the other, they feel, paradoxically, the exhilarating pleasure of an expected revival, like the revival of nature in spring after a severe winter.
Muslims enjoy the pleasure of re-union and of a universal brotherhood on festival days. They smile at each other lovingly, greet each other respectfully, and pay visits to each other. Members of divided families whom the modern, industrialized life has forced to live apart from each other in different towns, come together and enjoy the delight of eating, together once more, and living, once again, a few days together.
Religious festivals are, for Muslims, occasions for spiritual revival through seeking God’s forgiveness and through His praise and glorification. They are enraptured by special supplications, odes and eulogies for the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. Especially in traditional circles where the traces of the past are still alive, people experience the meaning of the festival in a more vivid, colourful fashion, on cushions or sofas, or around stoves or fire-places in their humble houses or cottages, or under the trees among the flowers in their gardens, or in the spacious halls of their homes. They feel the meaning of the festival in each morsel they eat, in each sip they drink and in each word they speak about their traditional and religious values.
Religious festivals are of a much greater significance for children. They feel a different joy and pleasure in the warm, embracing climate of the festivals, which they have been preparing to welcome a few days before, and, like nightingales singing on branches of trees, they cause us to experience the festivals more deeply through their play, their songs, smiles and cheerfulness.
Religious festivals provide the most practical means for improving human relationships. People experience a deep inward pleasure. They meet and exchange good wishes in a blessed atmosphere of spiritual harmony. It is especially when the festival permeates hearts with prayer and supplications performed consciously that souls are elevated to the realm of eternity. They then feel the urge to get rid of the clutches of worldly attachments and live in the depths of their spiritual being. In the atmosphere overflowing with love and mercy, a new hope is injected with life.
Believing souls welcome the religious festivals with wonder and expectations of otherwordly pleasures. It is, indeed, difficult to understand fully what believing souls feel during the religious festivals in the depths of their hearts. To perceive the feelings that the festivals arouse in pure souls who lead their life in ecstasies of otherworldly pleasures, it is necessary to experience such pleasures in the same degree.
Having reached the day of the festival after fulfilling their prescribed duty and responsibility, these souls display such a dignity and serenity, such a grace and spiritual perfection that those who see them think that they have all received a perfect religious and spiritual education. Some of them are so sincere and so devoted to God that each seems to represent the outcome of a long glorious history and to be the embodiment of centuries-old universal values. One may experience through their conduct and manners that taste of the fruits of Paradise, the peaceful atmosphere on the slopes of firdaws – the highest abode in Paradise – and the delight of being near to God.
By M. Fethullah Gulen