Muslims from all over the world anticipate the annual three-day celebration of a historical event that took place thousands of years ago during the time of Prophet Abraham [pbuh]1. This occasion, known as Eid-ul-Adha or the Festival of Sacrifice, is a representation of two significant Islamic events: the culmination of the Hajj (or pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia), and the sacrifice that God (Allah) commanded to Prophet Abraham of his beloved son, Ismail.
Eid-ul-Adha is observed on the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. While Muslims all around the world celebrate this day, it has particular significance for the pilgrims performing the hajj.
In order to understand the context of Eid-ul-Adha, one must describe the Hajj with which it is associated. Allah had made the Hajj mandatory upon mankind initially during the time of Prophet Abraham: “And make a proclamation of Hajj to mankind; they will come to you on foot and on lean camels from every distant quarter.” (Quran: Ch 22, v27). Over time, however, the spread of idolatry across Arabia caused the rituals of hajj to become extremely distorted. With the advent of Islam and Prophet Muhammad [pbuh], Allah had reinstated Hajj as the fifth pillar of Islam, and described the correct manner in which it was to be performed.
Allah has ordained that every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must perform the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. Several main rituals constitute the framework of this experience: 1. Tawaf (circumambulating the Kabah2 seven times); 2. Sa’i (walking between the mounds of Safa and Marwah seven times); 3. supplicating to Allah at Arafat (the place where Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] gave his farewell speech, proclaiming the final seal of Islam, and where Muslims believe they will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment); and 4. stoning the pillars that symbolize Satan at Mina (the place where Satan repeatedly challenged Abraham to disobey Allah’s command to sacrifice his son).
Each of these prescribed acts is a step in the pilgrim’s arduous journey towards spiritual cleansing. When the pilgrim successfully executes these acts in the prescribed manner with the utmost sincerity and humility, all his/her prior sins are forgiven. The final ritual that pilgrims must perform, signifying the completion of these acts, is the sacrifice of a domestic animal.
In addition to denoting the completion of the hajj, Eid-ul-Adha honors the monumental sacrifice that was to be made by Prophet Abraham. Abraham was ordered by Allah to sacrifice his dearly-beloved son, Ismail, as a test of obedience. Abraham willingly submitted to Allah’s command, wherein Allah, by His Mercy, replaced Ismail at the moment of sacrifice with a lamb. Abraham’s selfless act of obedience is commemorated by the sacrifice of a domestic animal such as a lamb, sheep, cow, or goat, the meat of which is then distributed to relatives, neighbors, and the poor. In parts of the world that preclude Muslims from personally sacrificing an animal, Muslims donate money to charitable organizations, which then sacrifice the animal on their behalf and distribute the meat to the poor. In keeping with the following injunction of the Quran (22:27), “…and pronounce the name of Allah over the cattle which We have provided for them on the appointed days, then eat the meat themselves and feed the indigent and needy,” Eid-ul-Adha exemplifies the charitable instincts of Muslims in their communal effort to see that no one is left deprived of the sacrificial meat. It further embodies the values of discipline and self-denial, and submitting to the will of Allah.
Eid-ul-Adha is a joyous occasion marked with family traditions and celebrations. The festivities begin in the morning after Fajr prayer, where Muslims, dressed in their finest clothes, attend the congregational prayer followed by a sermon. Upon completion of the services, people greet each other with the blessings of Eid: “Eid Mubarak.” Afterwards, Muslims often visit the homes of relatives and friends, partaking in delicious feasts customary to their native cultures and often exchanging gifts, and many eagerly anticipate the return of those friends and relatives who have made the journey for hajj.
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all trace their roots back to Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic), who is thus known as the father of the three monotheistic religions. Islam relates that Abraham had two wives, Sarah and Hajar, each of whom bore a son, Isaac and Ismail, respectively. Although Hajar was initially Sarah’s maid, according to Islam, Hajar later married Prophet Abraham and bore him a son, Ismail. The lineage of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is traced to Ismail, whereas Christianity and Judaism trace their roots back to prophet Isaac, the son of Sarah. The sacrifice made by Abraham is of importance in all three monotheistic religions, although it is not commemorated by Jews and Christians in the same manner as in Islam. Christianity and Judaism, however, maintain that Isaac, rather than Ismail, was the promised son whom Allah had ordered to be sacrificed.
Whether it is Islam, Christianity, or Judaism, the sacrifice of the son of Prophet Abraham has historical significance. Muslims celebrate the event through the festivities of Eid-ul-Adha as customary to their native cultures. Eid-ul-Adha is a time of remembrance of the trials of Prophet Abraham, a time to celebrate the end of the hajj, and a time that men, women, and children of all ages greatly anticipate. Eid Mubarak!
1 pbuh stands for peace be upon him, an invocation of respect.
2 Kabah – Muslims believe that this is the first house built for the worship of God. It is in Mecca, Saudi Arabia and is the direction in which Muslims face to pray five times a day.