Nepali Muslims celebrate Eid

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SHAFAQNA - The monsoon downpour failed to dampen the spirits of beautifully dressed Nepali women and children, who streamed into a bungalow glittering with tiny light bulbs on Friday evening.

They arrived with cakes, fruits and sweets, joining about four dozen women, in a ground floor room festooned with balloons, bangles stacked on a table and people milling around.

They hugged one another and exchanged the greetings: Eid Mubarak. Many were painting their hands with henna. A steady flow of cold drinks arrived in a room that had an unmistakable air of a festival.

On the Friday night, word reached Juhi Shah, the hostess, that a crescent moon had been sighted, heralding an end to the holy month of Ramadan and confirming that Saturday, the festival of Eid al-Fitr would begin.

Twenty-year-old Neha Banu Shah waltzed into the familiar gathering of friends and families.

“Men go to mosque for prayers, so women gather here to celebrate the end of Ramadan. We wish each other a good life. This is also an occasion to start new friendship and strengthen old bonds,” Shah, who works for a Kathmandu group for youth, told Anadolu Agency.

Nepal, which has 28 million people, is home to more than one million Muslims, the third largest religious group in the Hindu majority country. Recently, Muslim leaders pushed for greater rights during the constitution-drafting, a seven-year process coming to an end.

“I have many non-Muslim friends. We respect their culture. We try to enhance our culture to make it rich and to continue the tradition. We don’t feel like a minority,” Shah said.

Syed Nehal Shah, a 72-year-old former contractor, reminisced about bygone years of his youth in capital Kathmandu, when Eid meant new clothes, plenty of food – chicken biryani, mutton biryani – and a lot of fun.

“Now I have become old. My sons and grandchildren enjoy the festival to the fullest. I stay at home and pray,” Shah, a former president of Panch Kashmiri Takiya, the oldest mosque in Nepal, told Anadolu Agency.

“Back in the day, there weren’t readymade clothes. So we would go to tailors and order new clothes. People dressed in their best clothes and visited relatives. Now it’s the younger generations who have fun during Eid,” he said.

“During Eid, we eat good, delicious food and go to mosque for prayers. We wish for peace, prosperity and happiness,” he said adding that he hosted an iftar (breaking of fast) party for his non-Muslim friends who also happened to be senior advocates, former top civil servants and politicians.

For Mohna Ansari, Eid revives the memories of her childhood in Nepalgunj, a border town with the largest Muslim population in Nepal.

“Eid used to be the most memorable and fun-filled time of the year. We received cash rewards and wore new clothes. We visited all our relatives who lived in the town,” said Ansari, who moved to Kathmandu seven years ago after being appointed commissioner of the National Women Commission.

She is so attached to her native place that she brought new dresses to her two daughters, aged 11 and 18, all the way from Nepalgunj.

“Because of my childhood memories of Ramadan and Eid in Nepalgunj, I don’t really enjoy it in Kathmandu. I miss my home, my relatives and the milieu of Nepalgunj so much during Eid,” she told Anadolu Agency.

Ansari began fasting during Ramadan at age 14 and says the tradition is associated with poverty because “it forces one to feel hunger from dawn to dusk”.

She recalled that during Ramadan her father would give alms to beggars on the streets, never returning along the same route so that more people would benefit from his charity.

“Ramadan is when one earns blessings by fasting and being closer to the God,” she said.

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