Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Eid Arrives in Afghanistan

While some worry about the costs associated with celebrating the holiday, most look forward to following the tradition.
By Suhaila Muhseni

It was difficult to get through the crowds at Lessa-ye-Mariam, one of Kabul’s crowded bazaars, on the Sunday before Eid al-Adha, one of the high points in the Muslim calendar. People buying sweets, cakes, fruit and clothes packed the shops and stalls lining the side streets, and blocked traffic.

Still, according to Mirwais Faizani, who runs a clothing store there, the crowds were deceptive. Business has been slow compared with previous years because people seem to have less money to spend.

Karima, 28, dressed in a burka, the veil worn by many Afghan women, was there with her son, buying new clothes for her children to wear during the Eid celebrations.

"Eid is coming and if I don't buy clothes for the children, they will get upset," she said. But Karima, who works at home as a seamstress while her husband is a state employee, agreed that financial conditions are difficult this year.

Mirwais, eight, out shopping with her mother, was clearly looking forward to the big day.

"I will wear my new clothes on the Eid days and go over to my grandfather's house to get my ‘eidi’,” she said, referring to the tradition of children receiving gifts or money during this holiday.

Besides shopping, Afghans were busy this week cleaning, painting and decorating their houses for the feasts they will have with families and friends. Young men and women have also been beautifying themselves by putting henna on their hands.

Eid al-Adha is one of the two “eids” or festivals celebrated in all Muslim countries. One, called Eid al-Fitr and sometimes called the “lesser Eid”, markes the end of Ramadhan, the month of fasting, and was celebrated in November.

This year, Eid al-Adha falls on January 20. The date marks the culmination of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and celebrates the moment when instead of allowing Abraham to sacrifice his son, God provided him with a sheep instead.

To mark the event, Afghans who can afford it will observe the religious obligation to sacrifice an animal, that will then be cooked and its meat shared.

Maulavi Zabihullah, the mullah at the Abn-e-Masood Mosque in Kabul, explained that any Muslim who can manage it should sacrifice an animal such as a sheep, goat, cow, buffalo or camel aged less than one year.

The mullah said that sheep and goats, the most commonly sacrificed animals in Afghanistan, only need to be shared by one family. Meanwhile, cows, buffalos, and camels, if sacrificed, must be shared with seven people.

Nazi, 88, bedridden in her Kabul home, says Eid has changed since her youth. The animal sacrifice still occurs, as do the prayers, but back then young people didn’t buy cake, biscuits and sweets. Women used to bake fresh bread and cook “shorba”, soup with red meat, she said. Then they would take the soup and the fresh bread to the mosque and spread it out on a tablecloth on the floor, so that all those who were praying could have food.

In those days, she recalled, most people made their new clothes from cheap cloth, rather than buying it. The men and male teenagers would put on their finery, outline their eyes with black kohl, and gather in parks to play games such as cards or “egg fights” – each trying to crack the other’s hard-boiled egg.

For men engaged to be married, Eid can be an expensive event. They are expected to buy gifts for their fiancée and her family, as well as new clothes for themselves.

Mohammad Rafiq, 25, who has been engaged for the past two years, owns a modest convenience store. This year, like last, he said he feels obliged to buy many gifts for his fiancée and her family including clothes, jewellery and sweets. Without much money himself, Rafiq called many of these gifts “unnecessary expenditures”.

Now, he worries he won’t be able to afford his own wedding, and may be forced to borrow money just to fulfil the gift-giving tradition. He said there have been two verbal disputes so far between his own and his fiancée’s families over Eid presents.

"This year I don't have money to spend on Eid. I am wondering what to do: if I don't bring ‘eidi’, people will make fun of me,” he said.

Benazir, 18, has been engaged for one year. Her fiancé is a government official who doesn't have much money, but her family is expecting him to bring a huge amount of ‘eidi’ for them. Benazir, who disagrees with her family’s demands, said they are just trying to compete with others.

There is one Eid tradition that doesn’t cost a lot of money, however. It’s the spirit of forgiveness. Eid is a time when people are urged to put aside their differences at least for one day, and visit each other’s houses.

Suhaila Muhseni is an IWPR reporter based in Kabul.

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