“When studying different cultures in the world, and the different sub-sectors of cultures, we soon realise that it is mainly about ideas, values, rules and norms. We learn that there are many differences but also many similarities,” says anthropologist Waqas Saleem in Quaid-i-Azam University.
“Religious traditions vary, the belief systems may be different, and the dogma and the forms of worship are not the same. The differences are more at first glance and when studying religions that we are less familiar with. But if we look more closely and study issues in greater detail, we will discover that there are many common forms of expression in the different religions, even if they are different.”
“It is striking that religious feasts everywhere have at least three or four elements that are common. First, it is about togetherness; family, friends and neighbours come together to celebrate in their local communities. Common meals are also essential, in the family, with friends or in more public places in the neighbourhood.
Second, religious feasts are about sharing. Third, it is about showing appreciation and concern for those who are closest to us, and also for others, especially the needy.
Fourth, it is about religious belief. Well, one can say that the religion is the basis, the red thread underlying the feasts. But traditions have developed over time, and they may actually be more culturally than religiously conditioned,” says Waqas Saleem.
“In our modern time, many are worried about religious feasts becoming too commercial. That is the case for Eidul Fitr in Islam, Christmas in Christianity and Diwali in Hinduism. I am not worried about that, rather the opposite, since it makes the feasts more present in our minds and communities, not only in places of worship. I believe that both Muslims and Christians consider the religious aspects of the feasts, even those who do not talk so much about it in a more secular world,” says Waqas Saleem, and he adds that Muslims in particular give the religious aspects prominence, and Eid comes at the end of Ramazan when most adults have been fasting.
“The tradition of offering gifts is very valuable. I find it a beautiful tradition.
Yes, it costs some money and not all can afford that, and it may be something that is given a bit too much focus by children and youth. But I don’t think that is really negative. Besides, it is not only about receiving gifts, but also about giving to others.
In Eidul Azha that is indeed a very important aspect of the feast,” says the anthropologist, and he adds that before the Eid festivities begin, usually in the early morning after prayer, believers go to the graves of their departed relatives. “That is also a beautiful tradition, and so is the tradition of dressing up in new Shalwar Kameez for the mosque and Eid parties,” he says.
“In the mostly Christian Europe, and as a lighter tradition, children are often asked to think about what they want for Christmas, and they may write down a whole wish list. In turn, children will ask their siblings, parents and other relatives what they want. Parents sometimes just say they don’t want anything, just kind and well behaving children, making it a bit puzzling then for the children what they should buy then,” says a smiling Fr. Sarfaraz Simon, the rector of St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral in Rawalpindi.
“I find the way the Muslims observe Ramazan very good, indeed the Iftar gatherings every evening. I believe Christians can learn from the Muslims,” he says.
“I also find it important that Christians and other believers meet with Muslims during Ramazan, such as at the Iftar dinner that was hosted a weeks’ time ago by the Ministry of Religious Affairs,” Fr. Simon says.
“My children are creative,” says Mohammad Asim, who is a graphic artist himself with a wife who has done a Masters in Fine Arts.
“My son of 12 is always making or building something, often using Lego construction toys. If I ask him what he ‘needs’, he would quickly say ‘more Lego toys’, and he knows exactly what new sets he wants, and how to combine them with what he already has. I quite understand his interest because such toys are quite advanced and fun to work with, yes, even for adults,” the father of four says.
“The tradition of giving money for Eid is also alright,” Asim says. “It makes the children think about what they want, and how far their money will reach.”
In one of the new shining shopping malls in Islamabad, Irfan, a young toddler of about four, sits confidently in a brand new electric car, with his parents behind with slightly worried faces. “We paid Rs30,000 for the car,” they say. “No, it is not really ‘Eidi’. It is just a toy gift.”
“Our compound is large enough, and it is paved, so this car will keep him busy when his much elder siblings are at school or doing homework.
His sister, Huma, and his brother Arif, who are both teenagers, are probably envious. But they can be ‘mechanics’ and help charge the battery and sort out problems when they occur,” the parents suggest.
But then they all have to go; the boy is too impatient and it seems the parents want him under control at home, too, before his new ‘driving machine’ runs into somebody or something in the shopping mall.
A more serious looking older onlooker shakes his head. He says that it would have been better if the parents had given money to charity or to the IDPs in Waziristan. But a smart woman who overhears it says that maybe they do that too. “There is no harm in doing both,” she says.
“We all buy things that others would consider luxury items. We should in addition give to charity and help others. We should give generous ‘Eidi’ to workers in our homes and workplaces - and not forget them the rest of the year either,” she says.
Published in Dawn, July 21st , 2014