Comment: A Bittersweet Holiday

This year's Eid was quieter than usual, with streets and parks empty of any visible celebrations.

Comment: A Bittersweet Holiday

This year's Eid was quieter than usual, with streets and parks empty of any visible celebrations.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

In former years, the Eid al-Adha holiday brought us four days of happiness in otherwise hard times. Streets filled with people out shopping. Families flocked to the parks. Neighbours organised "chopis" - little amusement parks, with makeshift merry-go-rounds and other rides for the children.

This year, however, Eid began with two powerful explosions that shook the city of Irbil. At last count the death toll was 107 and rising, while hundreds more were injured. That set the tone for a joyless holiday.

Traditionally on the first day of Eid al-Adha, each family that can afford it will slaughter a sheep to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ismail. The meat is then distributed to the poor as a reminder of Muslims' obligations to help less fortunate members of the community.

But this year there were noticeably few households distributing meat. Many Iraqis – especially soldiers of the now-disbanded army – are jobless, and families that do have savings are keeping them for an uncertain future.

Most parks in the capital – including the famous Baghdad Island north of the centre, and the Sports City in the east – have been turned into US military bases.

Zawraa, the only major park that is still open, lies in the shadow of the Green Zone, the coalition's headquarters in Baghdad. To enter it, one must pass through heavy security, which put a damper on the festive atmosphere.

In the climate of insecurity created by the blasts that periodically rock our cities, many people stayed at home throughout the entire holiday.

Baghdad's streets were nearly deserted. It looked like a ghost town.

Even the weather – overcast skies punctuated by a freak hailstorm – fitted the mood of depression.

There were only two good things about this Eid.

Traditionally, on the first day we visit the graves of deceased relatives, to remember and honour the dead. This year, with the discovery of mass graves, many families knew for the first time where their relatives lie buried.

The other good thing was that everyone agreed on which day the Eid should begin.

In the Islamic calendar, months begin and end with the sighting of the crescent moon.

Two months ago, during the lesser Eid that marked the end of Ramadan, Sunni and Shia clerics disagreed as to whether the crescent had been sighted. That didn't happen this time around.

The coalition says it has brought us freedom. But without security – both physical and economic – freedom does not taste so good. In Eids to come, I hope we can have both freedom and security.

Salaam Jihad is a trainee journalist with IWPR in Baghdad.

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