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25 Days of Exchange //

In Islam, the gift of feeding others is a spiritual act

Muslim holiday gift-giving doesn’t translate as neatly as a perfectly wrapped boxes around a Christmas tree.

Jordan Coelho for Quartz
Day 8 of Quartz’s 25 Days of Exchange

Gift-giving in Islam is encouraged. A common Muslim saying tahaabu, tahaadu, translates as “give gifts to spread love to one another.” There are several stories of the prophet Muhammad giving and receiving gifts of perfume, clothing, livestock.

But one of the most common gifts he gave and received was the gift of food, which is why it’s become such a strong tradition across Muslim cultures.

The prophet Muhammad also institutionalized food giving in all three of the major Muslim holidays. In Ramadan, for example, Muslims are encouraged to feed each other every night for iftar (the breaking of the fast). On Eid-ul-fitr, Muslims donate grains and other staple foods, a practice known as zakat-ul-fitr. And on Eid-ul-Adha, Muslim families are required to slaughter an animal, keeping a third for the family, gifting a third to friends, and offering the last third as a donation.

Muslims have also developed additional food traditions for each of their various holidays, as you’ll see in the video above.

But why food? Tamara Gray, a US-based Muslim scholar, says that it may be because even up until the 20th century, food was considered a most valuable and precious gift, even though that’s no longer the case.

Many Muslims are now adding new non-food traditions of gift-giving. Gray, a convert to Islam, says she makes sure her kids wake up to “age and interest-appropriate” presents, every Eid morning.

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