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.

Spotlight on the Bayat Foundation’s New Scholarship Program

Education has always been a top priority for the Bayat Foundation. As Afghanistan’s largest private philanthropic organization, the Bayat Foundation is keenly aware of the fact that years of conflict and instability have prevented many Afghans from pursuing any kind of formal education. As a result, the country is experiencing a serious education and skills gap that is limiting its ability to rebuild and move forward into the 21st century.

Bayat Foundation

Like many other charitable organizations, the Bayat Foundation is deeply committed to reducing this education gap. Over the years, the Foundation has launched and supported a wide variety of educational initiatives, many aimed at Afghanistan’s most vulnerable and underserved populations. The Foundation has also worked to build a legacy of educational redevelopment through a long-term partnership with the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), the country’s leading private nonprofit university. Recently, the Foundation announced the creation of the Bayat Scholars Program, a new scholarship initiative that will provide key educational opportunities for Afghan youth at AUAF. Read on to learn more.

Building the next generation of IT professionals

The aim of the Bayat Scholars Program is to build and develop a new generation of skilled and experienced Afghan IT professionals. Many organizations, including the Bayat Foundation, agree that a vibrant and innovative tech sector will be a vital element of Afghanistan’s rebuilding process. But before young and aspiring entrepreneurs can revitalize the country’s tech scene, they need the opportunity to gain critical skills and knowledge in their field—the kind of opportunity that a first-class post-secondary institution like AUAF is well placed to provide.

Through the Bayat Scholars Program, 15 scholarships will be awarded each year to qualified candidates, allowing them to pursue a bachelor’s degree at AUAF in either information communication technology or computer science. To be eligible for a scholarship, candidates must be Afghan citizens with a high school diploma, a strong academic record, and excellent English skills. In addition, candidates must be committed to using the opportunity of the scholarship program to help build a better future not only for themselves but for Afghanistan. Ultimately, the aim of the Bayat Scholars Program is to help create and support an exceptional Afghan-based technology sector that will drive economic growth and create job opportunities for the entire country.

computer

A thriving partnership

The Bayat Scholars Program is the latest step forward on the journey that the Bayat Foundation and AUAF have taken together over the years. The Bayat Foundation has been one of AUAF’s biggest supporters from the university’s early days, backing many of its programs and initiatives.

Perhaps the largest and most impressive testament to the thriving partnership between the Bayat Foundation and AUAF is the Bayat Institute of Technology (BIT), a 32,000-square-foot science and technology teaching and research center that was completed and opened in 2018. Located at the heart of AUAF’s flagship campus in Kabul, BIT offers students, faculty, and visiting scholars and researchers a host of world-class amenities, including media and technology labs, IT labs, fully equipped lecture halls, a rooftop leisure center, and two prayer halls. Developed and built by Afghans, the facility is a distinguished example of Afghan skill, craftsmanship, and determination, as well as an important hub for technological education and innovation in Afghanistan.

More about the American University of Afghanistan

The only private, nonprofit, nonpartisan, and coeducational university in Afghanistan, AUAF is dedicated to providing its students with the quality education they need to help meet the needs of their country and become future leaders in their communities and on the world stage.

AUAF first opened its doors in 2006, and since that time, it has grown into one of Afghanistan’s premier educational institutions, with 29 Fulbright Scholars among its graduates as well as ongoing partnerships with such prestigious international universities as Stanford, Georgetown, and the University of California network. The following are some of the most important highlights of AUAF’s history:

2002—Minister of Higher Education Dr. Sharif Fayez proposes that Afghanistan establishes its first independent university. In a public speech, President Hamid Karzai emphasizes how important education is to Afghanistan’s future.

2003—The Afghanistan High Commission for Private Investments offers two large tracts of land in southwest Kabul, under a 99-year lease, for the development of a private university. To receive these leases, the American University of Afghanistan is chartered as a nonprofit philanthropic organization in Delaware.

2004—Afghanistan’s Ministry of Higher Education grants AUAF a charter under the Afghan Constitution and the Civil Code. A feasibility study is initiated to identify an institutional framework for the new university.

2005—Laura Bush, the US First Lady, visits the site of the new university and announces that the US will provide financial support for its launch.

2006—AUAF welcomes its first cohort of 53 students.

2007—AUAF develops and implements its first strategic vision and academic plans.

2009—Dr. C. Michael Smith is appointed AUAF’s president by the board of trustees. A grant from the US allows the university to establish an e-learning facility so that students can benefit from collaborations with institutions in other regions.

2010—Enrollment reaches 550 students, and a number of new programs, including bachelor’s degrees in computer science and business administration, are approved by the board of trustees.

2011—AUAF celebrates its first convocation.

2018—AUAF is granted accreditation status from the Ministry of Higher Education.