Giving children gifts during religious festivals is a tradition followed by families across the globe. For Muslims, those presents often take the form of eidiyah, spending money distributed to children on celebrations such as Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha.
The social tradition dates to the early Middle Ages, when the Fatimid caliphs distributed money, sweets or clothes to young and old citizens on the first day of Eid. By the end of the Ottoman period, however, eidiyah had largely evolved to refer to small amounts of cash given to children by their parents and older relatives within a family.
The custom is by no means universal, though. Some families don’t give eidiyah at all, others frame it as a reward for successfully completing a month’s fasting in Ramadan – particularly at Eid Al Fitr – and in other communities, parents may even give decorated envelopes full of cash to their adult children. Here in the UAE, residents traditionally give eidiyah to children in their families and within the neighbourhood.
While the tradition has taken a more commercial turn in recent times, with presents such as smartphones and video game consoles becoming common, some parents look to teach their children the value of money by giving financial investments instead.
“Ramadan traditions have been increasingly changing with the advent of globalisation,” says Sammy Badran, assistant professor of Political Science at the American University of Sharjah’s Department of International Studies, who researches social trends as part of his job.
The American draws a parallel between local Eid traditions and Christmas. “What was once a modest monetary gift from parents to their children has arguably become more commercialised. We see clever marketing framing these gifts as embodying Ramadan’s emphasis on generosity. Yet, on the other hand, there are parents who use the tradition of eidiyah as a way to teach children about money management and saving for the future,” he adds.
It is this aspect of financial management that National Bonds, the UAE sharia savings and investment company, focuses on with its annual eidiyah campaign. The initiative gives 500 minor bondholders Dh50 each via special electronic draws on the first day of Eid Al Fitr.
“In addition to encouraging minors to adopt a culture of savings and look upon the practice as a rewarding habit, the initiative also seeks to raise awareness among parents on the value of regular savings, especially when it comes to preparing for the rising costs of educating their children,” says Mohammed Qasim Al Ali, chief executive of National Bonds.
Gift vouchers are a particularly apposite gift at the present moment, he says. “Vouchers are not just monetary gifts, they’re protectors of a future … whether it's for a newlywed in your life, a child dreaming of a university education, or someone in need.”
Here, four UAE residents explain what eidiyah means to them and how they decide how much to give:
“Set a budget, don’t go overboard”
Dubai resident Aliya Khan, a Pakistani marketing professional who grew up in the UK and Saudi Arabia, remembers how her grandfather would greet all the children on Eid morning with a gift of fresh, new banknotes.
“My siblings and I loved the newness and crispness of those notes, and we’d sit with our cousins to count what we had received,” she says.
Her husband, Yasser Al Toubah, a Palestinian banker who is one of eight children, received both money and sweets from his extended family – while his older sisters were given gold jewellery.
The couple live in Dubai with their son, Rakaan, 13. They give him both cash and a gift every Eid, and also distribute cash to children of extended family members and to domestic helpers.
The Al Toubahs set a budget in advance and stick to it. The family also celebrate Christmas, Ms Khan says, so it’s important that gifts at each festival have a similar value. “Among the family, eidiyah of Dh100-Dh200 is standard, depending on how close you are. As parents, though, we like to stay within a realistic budget for each festival. Dh1,000 is not eidiyah, Dh500 or so is fine,” she says.
Cash allows Rakaan to buy whatever he feels like. “Children like to make those spending decisions themselves. If they want to save it, that’s great. Rakaan has saved up and then used the money for a specific goal – and he understands that the satisfaction of doing so is greater than if we were to buy it for him,” says Ms Khan.
She expects to continue giving eidiyah as long as she can.
“We gave cryptocurrencies one year”
University lecturer and entrepreneur Somia Anwar and her husband Ali Khwaja have created their own Eid traditions since moving to the UAE as well as sticking to familiar customs such as family dinners and get-togethers. Ms Anwar, 39, from Pakistan, has been living in Sharjah for the past 20 years and still receives eidiyah – or eidi as it’s known in Pakistan – from her parents and in-laws.
“Ali started a tradition for giving gifts to everyone – kids and adults. Over the years, the gifts have varied considerably. They might be a foosball table, a TV set, a PlayStation console, kitchen appliances – and even Bitcoin,” the Sharjah resident says.
As a child growing up in Karachi, eidi was always just a token amount of cash, she says. “But nowadays kids are more aware and start suggesting Eid gifts a month in advance,” she says, putting in requests for items such as iPhones, iPads, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation consoles and games. “All very costly.”
One year, Mr Khwaja, a cryptocurrency enthusiast, introduced the family to Bitcoin by giving each person a printout of their personal cryptowallet. “The adults immediately set up their cryptowallets online,” says Ms Khan. “The kids enjoyed it for one year. They would open their wallet occasionally and review how the price would go up and down but it lost excitement because they couldn't buy much with it.”
The couple’s children, Zoha, 14 and Abdullah, 12, are now more likely to receive gadgets.
"It's a lesson in financial responsibilities and obligations"
Dr Rana Batterjee, owner of candy store Sugarfied & Co, and vice-president of Momair Trading, an F&B company, believes eidiyah can serve to educate children about personal finance.
“Eidiyah is a good way to teach children how to save money and feel responsibility for it,” says the Saudi-American, 52. “I'd explain to my children what it meant to have money and what it meant to save and spend. I'd ask them how much of the eidiyah they wanted to keep and the rest I would save for them.
"As they grew older, I opened a bank account for them to track their money independently. As they became more responsible and mature, I explained to them the importance of zakat (charity), which is one of the five pillars of Islam.”
In addition to jewellery gifts as a child, Dr Batterjee remembers being given a small white envelope with her name neatly written on the outside, and how she’d run to her mother to open the envelope and count the eidiyah.
Ms Batterjee and her husband Mazen Omair, from Saudi Arabia, have continued this tradition with their now grown-up children – usually giving cash. “We’ve always encouraged them to save it for something special,” she says. “Eidiyah is about the thought and act of giving, not the money. I think I will continue until one day they have their own children, then I will give the eidiyah to them as well.”
"Online transfers are a way to send eidiyah in coronavirus times"
With families split across the world during the pandemic, many residents send eidiyah using online money transfer channels, says Farheen Matheranwala, from India, who lives in Sharjah. The crisis has changed the way people are celebrating, and the 37-year-old expects to connect with friends and family via apps such as Zoom.
“Meeting people may get difficult but technology will help to overcome this. A safe way to send eidiyah nowadays is using [online] banking,” she says. Although she plans to celebrate Eid Al Fitr at home in the UAE with her husband and two sons, Mohammed, 10, and Hussain, 4, she has recommended online transfer option to friends.
Ms Matheranwala sees eidiyah as a small token of blessing and says she was taught early on to save the cash for something she needed, such as books or school accessories. It’s an attitude she tries to teach children, steering them away from demands for toys, video games and electronic gadgets.
“We don’t give them expensive gifts, but highlight the traditional values behind the festival instead," she says. "We also encourage my older son to give eidiyah to his brother.”