Across the Middle East and North Africa, Muslims have been celebrating Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
After a month of fasting and spiritual observance during Ramadan, Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month. With ISIS defeated in Iraq and Syria, many people are experiencing a level of safety and stability that has been absent for years. In the Syrian provinces of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour, markets have been buzzing with people looking to buy new clothes and gifts for their loved ones.
This is in stark contrast to the atmosphere last year, when these provinces were still reeling from the destruction of war and ISIS occupation. In Iraq’s Mosul, signs that the city is slowly returning as a cultural hub in the country were visible for all to see as long-standing traditions such as games and late-night storytelling in public areas saw a revival during Ramadan.
However, what has truly stuck out this year is how Ramadan and Eid have brought together people of different backgrounds and faiths in acts of kindness and respect across the region. In Mosul, civil activists from numerous faith and ethnic groups, including Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks and Kaka’is turned out to celebrate Eid al-Fitr side-by-side with their Muslim neighbours in a bid to improve inter-community coexistence and promote tolerance. The heart-warming gesture was a sign that Iraqis reject religious hatred and efforts to divide communities – something that ISIS tried to do by pitting different communities against one another in order to spread its hateful ideology.
In Tunisia, Muslims and Jews came together during Ramadan as the annual pilgrimage to the country’s Ghriba synagogue, known as the Ghriba Annual Mass, coincided with the holy month for the first time since 1987. 800 Muslims and Jews, including prominent religious and community leaders gathered together to share a fast-breaking meal on the island. In a region that has been blighted by the scourge of sectarian violence for many decades, this gesture was a chance to promote values of respect and coexistence between adherents of the two religions. This event showed how such occasions could be an opportunity to promote interfaith cohesion.
The Egyptian capital of Cairo also saw occasions when Muslims and Christians have come together during Ramadan and Eid in a bid to promote unity and coexistence. In the populated neighbourhood of Shobra, Coptic Christians say that they have been helping their fellow Muslim neighbours with Ramadan preparations for 37 years. These acts of tremendous generosity capture the truest spirit of Ramadan and Eid, which is centred on kindness and bringing people together.
While for many, Eid is a time of happiness and serves as respite from everyday life, many continue to suffer from the effects of war. International NGOs say that over 15,000 Syrian children, who have been displaced by the war in their country are facing homelessness in Lebanon, where they have taken up temporary residence. Many of these children are faced with the prospect of being on the streets during Eid. In other parts of Syria and Iraq, millions of children orphaned by the bitter conflicts in their countries are forced to beg for food and basic necessities during this month.
Despite this, civil society activists in war-torn cities have taken it upon themselves to provide these necessities to those most in need. In Fallujah, a group of young people have taken it upon themselves to provide new clothes for over a hundred orphans in the city in time for Eid. Libya has also seen numerous charity organisations have provided food for those most in need. These acts of kindness send a message to groups who seek to divide societies in the region, such as ISIS, that despite their efforts, they will never crush the true spirit of Eid and Ramadan.