8 Things to Know About One of Afghanistan’s Biggest Holidays

Earlier this summer, during the first week of June, Muslims all around the world gathered together to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the festival that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. In Afghanistan, as in most other countries with significant Muslim populations, Eid al-Fitr is one of the most important traditional holidays, and it is welcomed with great enthusiasm by Afghans all across the country. Read on for a look at eight interesting facts that you might not know about Eid al-Fitr in Afghanistan.

1. It celebrates the end of a long fast.

One of Islam’s most sacred traditions, Ramadan is a period of ritual fasting that honors the month when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. During Ramadan, most Muslims do not eat (or drink) from dawn until dusk, and they may also abstain from activities like smoking or taking medications. Eid al-Fitr is the festival that marks the end of Ramadan, and consequently, the end of fasting. Appropriately enough, therefore, the literal translation of Eid al-Fitr is “Festival of the Breaking of the Fast” or “Feast of Fast-Breaking.”

breaking fast

2. It begins with the sighting of the new moon.

Like Ramadan, the start of Eid al-Fitr is determined by the date and time that the new moon is first sighted. This means that most of the time Muslims must wait until the night before Eid to verify the exact timing of the festival. Many Muslim countries depend on local moon sighters to catch the first glimpse of the new moon; when the sighting has been confirmed, the beginning of Eid is declared at mosques and on television and radio stations. For uniformity, some Muslim regions choose to celebrate Eid when the new moon appears over the holy site of Mecca, rather than over their own location.

3. It is held on different (Gregorian) dates every year.

The Gregorian calendar, in use in many parts of the world, is based on the solar cycle, whereas the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, which means that months start and end with each new moon. Therefore, because lunar months are slightly shorter than solar months, Eid al-Fitr always arrives about 10 days earlier than it did the previous (Gregorian) year.

4. It usually lasts for at least three days.

The festival of Eid al-Fitr and its associated celebrations traditionally last for a three-day period. In many countries, including Afghanistan, all three days are observed as national holidays. However, depending on where Eid al-Fitr falls during the week, the festivities can sometimes last longer. For example, if the three days of Eid occur mid-week, it’s not uncommon for the celebrations to last all the way through the weekend.

5. Cleanliness and grooming are an important part of Eid al-Fitr.

On the first morning of Eid al-Fitr, Muslims begin the day with a ritual called “ghusl,” a ceremonial cleansing of the body. Then, they will often dress in new clothes—some people wear traditional dress from their country or region, while others choose contemporary clothing. In some areas, women will decorate their hands with intricate henna designs.

6. The festival begins with prayers.

After getting dressed, Muslims gather together with their families and communities for morning prayers. These prayers are usually followed by a special sermon and a prayer known as the Salat al-Eid. The prayers are often held at local mosques or in large halls, but in many countries, people also gather for prayers outdoors. After prayers, the rest of the day is spent visiting and celebrating with family, friends, and neighbors. In some countries, people also visit cemeteries to offer their respects to late family members.

Prayer
Image by DVIDSHUB | Flickr

7. Special dishes and meals are prepared.

Since Eid al-Fitr is a festival that marks the end of a month of fasting, it’s not surprising that food plays a major role in the celebrations. (In fact, voluntary fasting is actually not allowed on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, as Muslims are instead encouraged to feast and celebrate the conclusion of a month of fasting and worship.) Each country has different traditional foods that are prepared before Eid begins or on the morning of the first day; many of these foods are sweets or desserts, but savory dishes are also important. In Afghanistan, a dish traditionally prepared and eaten at Eid is bolani, a type of flatbread stuffed with different fillings like spinach, lentils, potatoes, or pumpkin.

8. Gifts are given.

To celebrate the end of a month of sacrifice and abstinence, Muslims embrace abundance during Eid al-Fitr. This means not only abundant food, but gifts as well. The most common gift at Eid is money, but flowers or goods for the home may also be given. Known as “Eidi,” gifts are most often given to children, who are a special focus during the Eid al-Fitr celebrations.

Spotlight on 7 More AICS-Certified Organizations

The certification program operated by the Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society (AICS) plays an extremely important role in the development and advancement of the Afghan civil society sector. Under this program, local civil society organizations (CSOs) can apply to be independently evaluated and certified.

Certification is measured against high international standards and best practices for all aspects of CSO operation. These include internal governance, financial management, and program delivery.

When a CSO receives certification from AICS, it is a testament to that organization’s reliability and effectiveness. This is an important step in promoting transparency within the civil society sector and increasing both local and international trust in Afghan CSOs.

As of June 2018, AICS had provided certification to 27 Afghan CSOs. Previously, we profiled seven of these organizations. Today, we shine the spotlight on seven more of these important, dependable organizations.

1. Organization of Human Welfare

Organization of Human Welfare

Founded in 2007, Organization of Human Welfare (OHW) focuses on humanitarian aid, development aid, peace building, governance, and capacity development. OHW’s vision is of an Afghan society in which vulnerable and marginalized people can access the opportunities and tools they need to improve their well-being and break the cycle of poverty.

The organization operates across 19 different provinces. Some of its specific activities and programs include the distribution of winterization kits, the distribution of food and non-food items to regions impacted by emergencies, and conducting disaster risk reduction activities in local communities.

2. Organization for Research and Community Development

Organization for Research and Community Development

With a staff size of over 1,700, the Organization for Research and Community Development (ORCD) is by far the largest of the AICS-certified organizations. Established in 2011, ORCD has a broad mission to use evidence-based best practices to assist and empower communities to set, and attain, their own development goals.

The ORCD operates major programs across a wide range of thematic focus areas, including health, education, agriculture, rural development, and emergency relief. It is active in 14 of Afghanistan’s provinces.

In 2015, ORCD was granted special consultative status with the United Nations. This made it the first Afghan civil society NGO ever to participate in the UN’s Economic and Social Council.

3. Bu Ali Rehabilitation and Aid Network

Bu Ali Rehabilitation and Aid Network

Another very large AICS-certified organization is the Bu Ali Rehabilitation and Aid Network (BARAN). An independent, non-governmental, and non-political organization founded in 2006, BARAN has a mission to provide Afghans with quality health care, education, rehabilitation, and social services.

BARAN’s 1,250-plus staff members use a community development approach to deliver the organization’s programs and services. Capacity-building programs that enhance communities’ self-sufficiency are a particularly important focus area for BARAN.

4. Sanayee Development Organization

Sanayee Development Organization

For nearly 30 years, Sanayee Development Organization (SDO) has been working to create a peaceful, free Afghanistan where people can sustain themselves and manage their own development with pride.

SDO is focused on peacebuilding initiatives, including community-based resources for conflict resolution; community development activities, including capacity-building for disaster prevention; health services, such as mobile health clinics and HIV/AIDS harm reduction programs; and educational interventions, especially vocational training programs and literacy and numeracy classes.

Over the course of its history, SDO has joined a number of important local and international networks. These include the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, the Asian Disaster Reduction & Response Network, and the Afghan Civil Society Organization Network for Peace.

5. People’s Action for Change Organization

People’s Action for Change Organization

Founded in 2012, People’s Action for Change Organization (PAC.o) envisions an equitable and just society in which every person is free from hunger, poverty, and suffering. Much of PAC.o’s work focuses on food insecurity and initiatives to end hunger.

One of the organization’s most important initiatives is the REALISE project (Resilient Agriculture and Livelihood Initiative for Socioeconomic Empowerment). This endeavor is supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and carried out in partnership with ActionAid Australia/Afghanistan.

The REALISE project works with vulnerable households and communities to improve food and nutritional security; grow their economic asset base; and strengthen their engagement in local, provincial, and national decision-making around food security issues.

6. Afghanistan National Re-Construction Coordination

Afghanistan National Re-Construction Coordination

Afghanistan National Re-Construction Coordination (ANCC) was established in 1994 to assist vulnerable Afghan refugees and internally displaced families during the country’s civil war. Today, ANCC works to build prosperous and developed communities in Afghanistan by partnering with stakeholders to offer agricultural, food security, and community development support.

One of ANCC’s most important recent projects was the National Solidarity Program. It worked to build and strengthen local Community Development Councils and maintain them as effective institutions for local governance and socioeconomic development.

7. Afghanistan Rehabilitation and Educational Program

Afghanistan Rehabilitation and Educational Program

Another civil society organization established in 1994, Afghanistan Rehabilitation and Educational Program (AREP) understands the close connections between education, community development, and capacity building. It further understands how these key areas relate to the progress of Afghan society.

Today, AREP leverages its extensive experience managing multiple projects to deliver a range of programming. It has a particular focus on formal and information education.

A Look at the Future of the Bamiyan World Heritage Site

As one of Afghanistan’s two official World Heritage Sites, the Bamiyan Valley contains cultural and archaeological remains which make it a treasure to be safeguarded. Unfortunately, the site’s most famous cultural asset—the two colossal Buddha sculptures carved into the cliffs of the valley—was destroyed in 2001.

However, many efforts have been made since that time to preserve other aspects of the site. Today, an extensive rehabilitation plan, which includes the creation of a brand new cultural center, is currently in development.

The Site Remains Vulnerable

Despite these positive steps forward, the Bamiyan Valley remains vulnerable to threats such as environmental damage and security risks. This has resulted in its inclusion on a number of “at risk” lists, notably the list of World Heritage in Danger and the World Monuments Fund’s Watch List. Before the site can be removed from these lists, there is still a great deal of work to be done.

This question of what to do to ensure a safe and protected future for the Bamiyan Valley was the central focus of a recent three-day technical meeting. The event was organized jointly by UNESCO, the government of Afghanistan, and several other international partners. It was financially supported by the government of Japan.

Image by Johannes Zielcke | Flickr

International Efforts to Reinvigorate the Site

Held in December 2018, the meeting brought national and international experts together in Salah, Oman. The result was three productive days of dialogue and strategizing about the future of the Bamiyan World Heritage site.

Meeting participants also went on field visits to several Omani heritage properties, including the Land of Frankincense World Heritage site and the Al Baleed and Khor Rohri museums and interpretation centers. The purpose of these visits was to draw inspiration from these models and explore the elements of their management and operation plans that could be applicable to Bamiyan.

At the meeting, specific topics of discussion included:

The Current Status of the Bamiyan World Heritage Property

To improve communication and access to information, the meeting proposed that all of the technical information about the Bamiyan site (produced by UNESCO and other agencies and experts) be centralized into a single system. This could then be shared by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture in order to facilitate better coordination among different stakeholders.

Such a system would make coordination around particular issues, such as illegal construction and land acquisition within the World Heritage property zone, much easier to implement. The meeting also recommended the establishment of a management plan and a relevant governance system for Bamiyan. Finally, conducting an inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage that could then be integrated into national and local government databases was recommended.

Sustainable Development of the Bamiyan Valley

Much of the discussion on this topic focused on a few particular elements of a previously-created Bamiyan Strategic Master Plan, notably the traffic plan component and a bypass road. These developments are an important part of improving access to the site and increasing the quality of life for the local community.

In order to ensure that development will not interfere with future preservation and rehabilitation efforts, the meeting recommended that further technical, geological, and economic feasibility studies be undertaken. The meeting also stressed that future development plans in Bamiyan should be based on accurate GIS-based cultural mapping information, rather than on previous maps which are now outdated, but still occasionally in use.

Potential Rehabilitation of the Eastern Buddha Statue

At an earlier UNESCO meeting (held in Tokyo in September 2017), four technical proposals for the rehabilitation of one of the destroyed Buddha statues were presented. At the Oman meeting, participants supported the authorities’ decision to further investigate the suitability of these proposals. In the meantime, emphasis was placed on the importance of properly preserving the existing fragments of the Buddha.

Image by Regional Command East | Flickr

Opportunities and Challenges of Bamiyan Site Management

The meeting first recognized the recent efforts made by the government of Afghanistan to revise its 2004 National Law for the Protection of Cultural and Historical Properties to incorporate best practices based on international cultural conventions. The recommendation was made to accelerate the adoption of this revised law as well as to implement further regulations and guidelines as necessary to support the protection and promotion of Bamiyan.

There was also further discussion about how best to secure the proper financial and human resources to manage the site, and to implement proposed initiatives such as a museum and an archaeological park. Meeting participants encouraged the Afghan government to promote further outreach activities for an enhanced interpretation of the World Heritage site.

Donor Initiatives in Bamiyan

The Bamiyan World Heritage site, and its related preservation efforts and development activities, has received strong financial support from a wide variety of international donors. The meeting recognized and acknowledged the generosity of these donors.

The Italian Agency for Development Cooperation was a supporter of the project “Preservation and Promotion of the Bamiyan Valley through Culture-Oriented Sustainable Development.” The government of Japan was also recognized.

Featured Image by Johannes Zielcke | Flickr