The bustling and overcrowded streets of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka gradually embrace a deserted look at this time of year — fewer people, not so many vehicles, the marketplaces mostly closed.
This unusual scene descends only twice a year — during two of the biggest Islamic holidays in this Muslim-majority country.
Eid-ul-Adha (the Festival of Sacrifice), the holier of the two, fell on Aug. 22 this year. Eid-ul-Fitr marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. This year it fell on June 15-16.
During these religious festivals (Eid), this city of more than 15 million people sees nearly 70 percent of its residents head to the countryside to celebrate a great Islamic feast with their loved ones, often for up to a week.
Others remain in the city, stationed at their workplaces, for example doctors or police officers.
For restaurant cook Sumon Gomes, 37, a Catholic from northern Pabna district, Eid is an opportunity to express fraternity with others and foster harmony.
Gomes is employed at Bangla Khabar (Bangla Food) restaurant in the Lalbag area of the old part of Dhaka. While Muslim employees take three days’ to a week’s break during Eid, Gomes and several Hindu employees keep the business running.
“During Eid our owner requests that I and the Hindu staff keep the restaurant running. This means our Muslim colleagues get to enjoy the holiday, while we can make good tips from customers,” Gomes, a father of two, told ucanews.com.
Gomes has worked in various restaurants in the city for the last two decades. He considers it a moral obligation for non-Muslims to help Muslims celebrate their festival.
“As they return to work after Eid, they are practically beaming with happiness and a renewed sense of enthusiasm. That’s really good to see. We work side by side as brothers. It doesn’t matter what religion we belong to,” he added.
Gomes’ Muslim colleague, 30-year-old Masum Billah, got three days off for Eid-ul-Adha this month and was excited to be traveling back to his village the night before the feast after loading up with food in Dhaka.
Billah said he deeply appreciated his Christian and Hindu colleagues for the sacrifices they make during Eid by volunteering to cover extra shifts.
“I bought some clothes for my family and I’m looking forward to being reunited with them,” he said.
“If we didn’t work with non-Muslims, maybe we wouldn’t be able to enjoy this holiday. So we’re grateful to them.”
He said himself and other Muslims repay the favor on Christian holidays like Christmas and during Hindu Puja festivals.
“We kind of make a similar sacrifice. We work here like brothers, and we support each other in our times of need,” he said.
Kallal Datta, a Hindu, serves as the assistant police superintendent in Shariatpur district of central Bangladesh but hails from northern Natore district. He always remains on duty during Eid so others can take leave.
“I joined the force in 2014 and during these festivals we take up special duties in the absence of our Muslim colleagues,” Datta told ucanews.com.
“That means I get to go back to my village less often, but on the plus side, lots of local Muslims invite me to functions and I attend as many of them as I can.”
Religious harmony is one of Bangladesh’s biggest strengths, he noted.
“Bangladeshi people like to say that, even though we have different religions, festivals are open to everyone,” he said.
“This fraternity and solidarity fosters a strong sense of harmony among people. Bangladesh has seen a sharp rise in militancy lately, but people’s commitment to having a harmonious society will stop that kind of thing from ever establishing deep roots here,” Datta added.