Id (or Eid) ul Fitr is one of the most important Islamic holidays and is observed by Muslims all over the world, including by the 10 percent or so of Kenyans who are followers of Islam.
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It is a three-day festival that follows the end of the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims are expected to fast and pray. Fasting is replaced by feasting during Id ul Fitr, and the very name of the holiday means “Festival of Breaking the Fast.”
During Ramadan, Muslims fast during the day but eat at night. They pray, recite the Koran, and attend Mosque frequently. When Ramadan ends, and the month called “Shawwal” begins, Muslims join for communal prayer, for listening to further sermons (“khutba”), and to give out charitable food donations, especially to the poor and to children. Celebrants also, following common prayer, visit their family and friends to greet them, give gifts, and to indulge in abundant feasting on all manner of traditional foods and delicacies.
Those wishing to travel to Kenya during Id ul Fitr should note the Western calendar, being solar-based, does not allow a fixed date for the holiday since the Islamic calendar is lunar-based. The day drifts a bit each year. Also note that an official government declaration decides the exact date each year based on moon sightings, so the dates given in advance are technically only “estimates” until declared.
Kenya has about a dozen public holidays, including Christian holidays like Easter and Christmas, secular holidays such as New Year’s Day and Labour Day, and holidays of British origin like Boxing Day. The government also recognises certain Islamic holidays like Id ul Fitr. Most of the celebrations, however, for Id ul Fitr take place along the coastal region where Arab-Muslim influence has historically been stronger.
Some things to do if in Kenya during the three-day Id ul Fitr festival include:
- Attend “Coast Week”, an Id ul Fitr dinner and social put on by the Muslim Association of Mombasa. The Mombasa Traveler’s Beach Hotel and their Conference Centre host the event. You would meet people of many faiths since non-Muslims are free to attend. This event is very “prestigious” and popular in Mombasa, so you will have to book early to get a reservation.
- View the Jamia Mosque in Nairobi, which is the most famous mosque in all of Kenya. It will be crowded with worshipers during Id ul Fitr and you probably won’t be allowed inside, but the architecture is impressive to behold. The building is built of marble, on which are numerous inscriptions from the Koran, and there are shops along its side that help support the mosque financially. You will see three silver domes and two towering minarets.
- Since you will likely be near the coast to see Id ul Fitr celebrations, why not get away to one of Kenya’s world-famous beaches? The most popular beach is called “Diani.” It is located almost 20 miles south of Mombasa and has many coral reefs, underwater sandbars, and shore-lining palm trees. You can swim, surf, picnic, or take part in water sports. Another good option is to visit Lamu Island off the coast to see the white-sand strips of Manda Bay and Shela Beach. These beaches offer some of the most beautiful views and peaceful environments in Kenya.
- If you have a taste for adventure, you may wish to join in, or at least be a spectator at, the Rhino Charge. It is held every June, so it will occur close to Id ul Fitr, therefore, for a number of years. This is an off-road four-wheeler race through rough terrain, which helps raise money for Aberdare National Park. You can arrive two or three days early to enjoy various activities arranged for tourists, so it can be either a weekend event or a single-day event.
Id ul Fitr is a very religious holiday for Muslims, but there are many things to do in Kenya at the is time of year for everyone. You can both learn about the way Muslims celebrate Id ul Fitr and still take time for other activities.