A blast from the past: Cherishing the memories of Eid celebrations abroad


EID is an occasion when people wear new dresses and exchange greetings by embracing each other as they rejoice. As we recently celebrated it, it is worthy to recall that the first festival that Muslims celebrated was Eid Al-Fitr and it was marked in the second year of the Migration (Hijrah) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). When the Prophet came to Madinah, he found that people used to celebrate two days during pre-Islamic period (Jahiliyya). He said: “I came to you and you had two days during (Jahiliyya) for play and amusement. Indeed Allah has substituted them for you better days: the Day of Sacrifice (Day of Al-Adha) and the Day of Fitr.”

Eid Al-Fitr marked the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and after distribution of Fitr Zakat to its beneficiaries. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Make them rich on this day,” and by this the Prophet (PBUH) meant the poor people.

In my capacity as a member of the diplomatic corps in the past, I had to celebrate the festival in different places in a number of countries and I found striking similarities in the celebration of Eid in the Islamic countries. As for the celebration of Eid in non-Islamic countries, it has its own flavor.

My first celebration of Eid outside the Islamic world was in the city of Tokyo. This was after my transfer from Pakistan to Japan. There was limited number of Muslims in the city then and it had only one mosque, which was constructed in 1938 after many Muslims fled Central Asia following its occupation by the Soviet Union. The mosque was built by the Turkish community members after they settled down in Tokyo.

The mosque was constructed under the supervision of the Turkish government, which took into the consideration the fact that most of the people who fled Communist atrocities were of Turkish origin and Turkish speakers. Members of the Muslim community in Tokyo gathered at this mosque for Friday and Eid prayers. The mosque imam was a Turkish national who used to deliver sermons in three languages — starting in Turkish, then in Japanese and finally in Arabic. On some occasions, he used to slaughter sheep in the Islamic way and sell them to Muslims who were keen to buy halal meat.

Ever since my arrival in Tokyo, I was always keen to attend Friday prayers at this mosque along with some of my colleagues from the embassy. At the mosque, I met people who hailed from different Muslim countries and I developed close relationship with some of them. I came to know from them that they used to come to the mosque every Sunday to teach new Muslims how to perform obligatory prayer and memorize some small verses from the Holy Qur’an.

At that time, it was the lone mosque in Tokyo. Visitors from the Muslim countries to Japan used to come to this mosque to attend Friday prayers. Among the prominent figures who paid a visit to the mosque included King Faisal during his official visit to Japan. He performed the Friday prayers at the mosque and after the prayers the worshippers queued up to greet him one by one. The internationally acclaimed boxer Muhammad Ali also visited the mosque. After the prayers, worshipers greeted him and I was among those who shook hands with this celebrity sports figure.

During my diplomatic stint in Japan, I used to go to this mosque three times a week during the holy month of Ramadan. I lived in an area which was far away from the city. I relied on public transport to reach the mosque. First, I had to go to a station to take a bus and then board a train to a designated station and from there I traveled in a second train to a station, which was in the vicinity of the mosque.

When I decided to go to the mosque to perform special night prayers of Taraweeh, I used to go out of my house immediately after iftar so that I could reach the mosque before the start of the prayers. The imam used to perform 23 rak’ahs (units of prayers) of Taraweeh and Witr prayers, but he did not prolong the prayers, thus making it easier for the worshippers.

On the day of Eid, Muslims thronged the mosque well before the prayers. After the prayers and the sermon, which began in Turkish, then in Japanese followed by Arabic, the worshipers went out to the courtyard of the mosque where they exchanged greetings. Then, most of them went to the house of Abdel Hadi Debs, a prominent businessman of Syrian origin.

He used to receive the worshippers at his home and would have his breakfast with them and then all the guests would go out to the garden of the beautiful house to spend some time there. I came to know later that it was one of the most beautiful gardens in Tokyo.

After taking breakfast and exchanging greetings, everyone would leave the venue and make private visits to meet especially those who were not able to attend breakfast at the house of Debs.