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Breaking the fast in Zanzibar

Multimedia: The island's Eid celebrations highlight Islam’s diversity.

Two women selling snacks to passersby said that generosity is especially important on this day because it helps to bond the community together.

“It is a normal habit for Muslims,” Khiday Hamada Hajj said. “Generosity makes sure that people know how to help each other when something bad happens.”

In any case, the children knew exactly what they were going to do with their new cash: have fun. As shadows grew long on the first day of Eid — Zanzibaris celebrate for four days — a great carnival emerged in two parks. Children from all over the island of Zanzibar made their way to the fairgrounds. “Sikuku yetu,” they called it, “our holiday.” Boys changed into new clothes: pressed shirts and pants, and too-big belts that wrapped around their waists almost twice. Girls flaunted frilly dresses in pinks and yellows, with matching baubles in their braids.

The guidebooks often describe Zanzibar as exotic, but the pleasures at the fair were prosaic. Children scrambled around ring tosses, ice cream vendors and — that joy of kids everywhere — moon bounces. Generators hummed, lights flashed on and indulgent parents spoiled their young ones with a bonanza of cheap toys.

“Some people say Zanzibar is poor, but it is surprising,” said a toy seller at the fairground who gave his name as Yasser, and who had crammed his makeshift shop with plastic delights. People save money all year and buy plenty of toys, he said. “I don’t believe it!” he added with a smile.

Adults spent on themselves as well.

“Every country in the world has a time when business goes up,” said Omar Mohammed, a buibui seller in the city’s Ngomba district. “Here, this is the time of year when people spend a lot.”

According to one vendor, though, at least one sector was suffering during Eid: the market for religious paraphernalia. Suleiman Khamis runs a stall in the market selling Islamic books, herbal treatments and prayer rugs imported from Dubai, India, China and Oman. “There’s not so much business during Eid,” he said. Customers had already turned their buying attentions elsewhere.

Islam holds that God revealed the beginning of the Holy Quran to the prophet Mohammed during Ramadan. Observant Muslims spend the month in fasting, prayer and spiritual introspection.

With the appearance of the crescent moon, the days of ascetic sobriety are over. For the celebration, at least, even devout Zanzibaris allowed themselves to have some worldly amusements.