Eid brings Muslims worldwide together in a shared sense of celebration. It is also a litmus test for change.
Earlier this year councils were elected for the first time on Maldivian islands. Although they allegedly give islands a larger voice in the national dialogue, in some places the shift has rearranged community life.
“The activities are less common – women don’t play and men do less for Eid,” said Haleema Adam, a Maalhos resident.
Her daughter Nazeera attributed the shift to the advent of multi-party democracy.
“The democracy and party systems created divisions, now people don’t always agree on things,” she said. “Now, people make distinctions by party lines. They still go to the celebrations and help cook for big events, but it’s not as friendly as it used to be. If [our family] plans a party, the others won’t come,” she said.
In keeping with most reports from Maldivian islands, Maalhos residents do not find solutions in aggression. “They don’t show anger in the face,” said Nazeera. “But in the heart it’s there, so they don’t want to play at Eid.”
Eid activities are a favored pastime – ask most islanders on Maalhos about the festivities and they will smile as they recollect a favorite food, game or performance. Yet as young people move to Male’ and technology becomes more accessible, the strongest memories seem to rest with the elderly.
At Ramazan, a conche shell is traditionally blown to signal to other islands that the holiday is being observed. Lately, television and radio have eliminated the need, and therefore the tradition.
Electricity has been a useful advent, however. According to Nazeera, boys and girls no longer have to wait for a full moon to play gon kulhun, a night time game of tag and capture.
Aneesa Adam has many grandchildren, and has lived on Maalhos for most of her life. She remembers a swing that was traditionally hung from a tall palm tree before Eid prayer and used by children throughout the holiday.
“Now, the really tall palm trees have gone,” she said. “They were cut down to build the jetty. A nearby resort bought the trees and in exchange built our jetty.”
The game of fankulhun, a palm leaf version of dodge ball played by women, has fallen in the wake of uncompromising fashions. “Now, we’re too fashionable, too western to play those running games,” said Aminath Nasiha. Another girl gestured to her hijaab.
The changes in Eid traditions are most noticeable by women, who note that activities faded with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
“Religious people don’t like activities that gather men and women together. Those who are in charge of the activities have also become more religious, so they can decide what happens,” said Haleema. “Islanders like the activities, women especially, but most have stopped with religion. We don’t like the change.”
“We used to have Women’s day and Fisherman’s day and all those days,” said Haleema. “The women would cook and we’d bring the food in a keyn (large dish) to the school, because it was the only communal space big enough for everyone to gather.” She said the practice stopped four years ago when sheikhs disapproved.
Maalhos residents used to cook on the 40th day after a death to remember the life of the deceased. “We thought it was a Muslim tradition, but now they are saying it is a waste and not good,” said one resident.
Mosques have been gradually segregated over the years, but now women report being told to pray at home. Maalhos has four mosques, two for men and two for women.
Entertainment has been restricted as well. Haleema said local authorities oppose concerts and dance shows as well as a variety of traditional activities. On a quiet island, few options remain.
Several sports-based games featuring women are less common, or are played on a quieter level within families or household units. Women interviewed said they used to play bodu beru, a traditional drumming music still featured at most events. None could explain why they had stopped.
At a bodu beru celebration this Eid girls encouraged onlooking foreigners to dance. When asked if they would join, most girls gestured to their hijaab or burqa and shrugged. “You should have come two years ago, I was dancing then, oh!” said one girl. “But then I took up this [burqa], and that changed.”
“It’s just not very comfortable to dance with this long dress,” said another.