Religion For Dummies
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At the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, families break the fast and celebrate during a three-day festival called Eid al-Fitr (Eid means "recurring event,"and Fitr means "break"). It is also known as HariRaya Puasa in Southeast Asia and Seker Bayrami in Turkey. Greetings of "Eid-Mubarak!" ("A Blessed Eid!") fill the air.

Eid al-Fitr is celebrated during the months of April and May. The dates change every year in the Gregorian calendar (also known as the Western or Christian calendar) because Muslims, for religious matters, use a lunar calendar -- one that follows the phases of the moon. Within the Islamic calendar, the holiday takes place during the ninth month of the year.

Although festivities include family gatherings, new clothes, and feasting, a strong focus remains on giving alms. Charity, especially to the poor and needy, is central to Islam, as represented by its inclusion in the Five Pillars of Islam (the basic tenets of the religion). An economically self-sufficient Muslim is expected to give alms in an act called zakat in Arabic. Giving to charity shows that one's faith in Allah is true and that material possessions do not control his or her life.

Eid al-Fitr follows specific Islamic concepts

In Islam, this "charity" isn't so much giving because of sympathy for a cause or because of a catastrophe. Rather, it's a regular, sacrificial giving (much like charitable offerings at church) that — in addition to helping the needy — reaffirms the following Islamic ideas:
  • Everything belongs to Allah, even those material possessions that people think they own. By sacrificing these things for the sake of Allah, people are just giving things back to their rightful owner.
  • Nothing should be hoarded. Society works best when things — including money and resources — flow naturally. By giving things away that you don't need or use, you give people who can use them or may need them the opportunity to do so. In this way, you save yourself from greed, and you prevent envy and jealousy in others.
Islam also developed another element of charity called waqf. The waqf is a way of endowing money or land to be devoted to the maintenance of mosques, shrines, schools, hospitals, and other public works in Muslim lands.

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Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman host cable TV's The God Squad and appear frequently on Good Morning America and Imus in the Morning. They have written several children's books on religion.

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