A fiesta of mirth and triumph

Helal Uddin Ahmed | Tuesday, 18 April 2023

Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha are the two major religious festivals observed by Muslims across the globe. 'Eid' is an Arabic word implying 'joy' or 'festivity', while the meaning of the word 'Fitr' is 'to break' or 'to conquer'(abstinence) for a return to normalcy. As is well-known, it is observed on the first day of the Islamic or Hijri month of Shawwal, when the Muslims celebrate their return to normal routines after concluding their 'Siam' (restraint) through fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. The Muslims achieve a kind of triumph or victory by suppressing their evil impulses like greed, sensual pleasure, anger, hatred, jealousy etc through abstinence during Ramadan. The festivity was observed for the first time in the second year of the Hijri Calendar, following the victory of the Muslim forces led by Prophet Muhammad (SM) in the Battle of Badr. It replaced the pre-Islamic 'Ukaz' festival of Arabia where obscene or immoral acts used to be committed, and was introduced as a festival of joy, as well astriumph over man's evil and immoraltendencies.
As noted above, the observance of Eid festivals commenced in the 7th century CE following the migration of the Holy Prophet to Madinah from Makkah. The two Eids were also replacements for the twin festivals of 'Nawroz' and 'Mihirjan' observed by the adherents of Zoroastrianism in Madinah. Eid-ul-Fitr soon became a popular fiesta of amity, peace and harmony for Arab Muslims, who shunned class differences and vulgarism in society. Subsequently, it became one of the earliest Islamic festivals observed by the people of Indian subcontinent that included the inhabitants of Bangladesh territory following the arrival of Muslim conquerorsduring the medieval era. It has multifaceted dimensions in the local and global milieu, such as spiritual, social, ethico-moral, economic and cultural.
The festival is considered to be an occasion for celebration and reflection, charity and compassion, sharing and communication, joy and festivity for the Islamic fraternity, currently accounting for one-fourth of the global population. The masses tend to revisit their geographic roots both physically and spiritually. They return to their ancestral homes in villages and towns, show respect to the elders and deceased relatives, shower blessings on the younger generation, and undertake charitable deeds for the poor in the form of Zakat and Fitra. The spirit of equality, harmony, peace and brotherhood preached by Islam finds expression through numerousmeans. It is a festival where people inter-mingle with each other at houses and homes, parks and prayer-grounds, roads and fair compounds, and embrace and interact with each other in a mirthful atmosphere. Men and women, boys and girls exchange greetings and good wishes in both the virtual and real world, consume traditional food items including sweets, wear new dresses, and enjoy the merriments offered all around.
Since the commencement of the 20th century, folk-fairs are being organized as social eventsforfacilitating commerce and entertainment during Eid festivals - particularly in rural Bangladesh. These are still in vogue at different spots and places of the country. Apart from serving as a meeting-ground for rural producers and consumers, theyalso promote friendship and camaraderie among the rural populace. The fairs are usually arranged on the banks of rivers, or under huge banyan trees near the local bazaars. Handicrafts and foodstuffs like wooden and clay toys, chira, muri/khoi (puffed rice), monda and other indigenous sweets are sold and bought at these fairs. Colourful dolls made of cloth, hand-held fans (nakshi-pankha), decorated pottery, bamboo/plastic items, and musical instruments like flute, drum, ektara etc. are also sold here. Usually, merry-go-rounds, puppet shows and bioscopes are offered for children's entertainment at these fairs. Boat races are also organised at many places of Bangladesh where the elite and affluent people donate prizes for the winners.
EID BUSINESS: The biggest and the most positive impacts of the Eid festival in Bangladesh are usually observed in the business sector. Although there has not been any official survey yet on the Eid economy of Bangladesh, the World Bank estimated it to be about US$12 billion 2014. At least half of Dhaka City'sover 200 thousand shop-owners and over two million owners across the country eagerly wait for the Eid festival and take special preparations for trading, which peaks during the Ramadan. In fact, the retail and wholesale trade account for around 15 per cent of the country's GDP, and the largest share of the Eid economy emanates from this sector. A large chunk of the Eid-market has already been grabbed by the e-commerce outlets, as a section of consumers tend to prefer virtual suppliers in order to bypass the hassles and congestions on the streets and markets. Overall, the varied and diverse sectors that constantly swell the Eid economy range from garments and textiles to leather and electronic goods, jewelleries and food items, transportation and communication, tourism and sports, entertainment, and the mass media.
It has been observed that the owners of Bangladeshi shopping outlets usually take extra preparations prior to the Eid shopping season. They collect commodities at least two months in advance, decorate their stores, and often appoint additional salesmen. According to knowledgeable quarters, Eid shopping is often done by consumers who target certain products that are used or consumed throughout the year. Besides, the tendency to present gifts to near and dear ones has also grown in recent years due to the impact of consumerism and easy availability of local and foreign goods. All these provide fresh impetus to the generation, productionand supplyof commodities as well asadditional employment and earningsfor relevantpeople, thereby propping up the country's economy andsociety.
The commercial banks witness heavy rush as huge numbers of clients undertake transactions for withdrawing or depositing money. The banks often have to borrow from the call money market in order to cope with the rush. Sometimes, Bangladesh Bank pumps in record amounts of currencies as the clients throng at the bank branches all over the land. The stock market usually shows an upward trend, and remittances continue to pour in at a higher rate. The transportation sector undergoes a massive business spree, as people rush to the airports, railways, waterways and bus stations for travelling to their ancestral homes and spending the holiday with the near and dear ones. The print and electronic media become abuzz with new creations. The newspapers and periodicals bring out special Eid issues, which are quite popular among the Bangladeshi readership. The Television channels produce dramas, musical and dance presentations, magazine and other popular genres of programmes in large numbers for entertaining the Eid audiences. The tourism and hospitality industry makes brisk businesses, especially in tourist resorts like Cox's Bazaar, Sylhet region, Kuakata, and the three hill districts of Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachhari. Outdoor sites like theme parks, children's parks, zoos, botanical gardens, safari parks etc. also witness huge turnouts of visitors during the Eid celebration, which account for a major portion of their annual revenues.
As noted earlier, the retail and wholesale trade account for around 15 per cent of the country's GDP. Consequently, the largest share of the Eid economy emanates from this sector. These businesses pick up dramatically during festivals like Eid, but unfortunately no official survey has yet been conducted on the festival economy of Bangladesh. As Bangladesh economy has grown quite big by now and attracts global attention because of its size, there is an urgent need to check and analyse the relevant statistics. It is quite unfortunate that even the formal sectors like retail and wholesale trade suffer from data deficits in this country, let alone the huge informal economy spread throughout the land. This is in sharp contrast to the developed nations of the world, where there is constant monitoring and feeding of figures for the relevant stakeholders, which shed light on the windows of opportunities foroptimising business potentials.
The days leading to this year's post-pandemic Eid-ul-Fitr have not been very peaceful or pleasant in Bangladesh. The prices of essential commodities have continued to soar ruthlessly with inflation rate hovering around 10 per cent in the run-up to the festival, adversely affecting all segments of the citizenry. This has been all the more unfortunate as the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh's independence was celebrated only in the recent past.
Eid-ul-Fitr symbolises the harmonious and eternal bonding of human beings - where all are considered equal irrespective of their socio-economic status, race, caste, class or colour. As the Eid festivity is being blighted this year due to the rapid rise in prices, the masses are likely to have a mixed feeling while observing the day - joy and hope in the midst of gloom. The common people of the country are hoping and praying that all the bad omens in public health, society, economy and polity will be reversed and washed away through this festival, and the poison of pervasive corruption, hypocrisy, repression and vindictiveness in governance will be replaced by a fresh air of amity and reconciliation for rejuvenating the socio-political cum economic milieu of the country. It will be possible to materialise the Spirit of our Liberation War based on equality, human dignity and justice for all in this crisis-ridden society only when the powerful quarters shun their evil and immoral impulses, and adhere to the egalitarian values practiced by devout Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan. Eid Mubarak.

Dr HelalUddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary and former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly. [email protected]