Islam has two primary holidays, the first is called Eid al-Fitr (Holiday of the Feast). This holiday takes place at the end of the month of Ramadan. The second holiday is called Eid al-Adha (Holiday of Sacrifice) and is considered the holier of the two holidays. Eid al-Adha takes place on the 10th day of the month of Dhul Hijja in the Islamic calendar. Eid al-Adha marks the end of the pilgrimage that takes place in Mecca known as Hajj. Every year, 2-3 million Muslims from throughout the world make the pilgrimage to Mecca during a one-week period. This holiday is sometimes referred to as the greater Eid. The Islamic calendar is a lunar one, therefore the date of Eid falls on different dates of the Gregorian calendar. It takes place about 11 days earlier each year. For instance, if it fell of August 22 this year, next year it will likely fall around August 11.
The origins of this holiday stem from the pilgrimage and following in the footsteps of Abraham. Muslims throughout the world celebrate by sacrificing animals in honoring of Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God’s command. Instead of allowing Abraham to sacrifice his son, God sent a ram to be slaughtered instead. The command to sacrifice his son was one of the greatest trials Abraham ever faced. Although the Qurʾān does not name this son, Muslims believe it to be Ishmael. Muslims remember Abraham’s submission to God and preferring God’s commands over his own love and desire. Surely Abraham was an example, obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the polytheists. He was grateful for Our bounties. We chose him and guided him unto a right path. We gave him good in this world, and in the next, he will most surely be among the righteous (Qurʾān 16:120-21).
The meat of the animals that Muslims sacrifice is divided into three parts: one third is given to the poor and needy, another third given to friends, relatives, and neighbors, the last third is kept for personal consumption. The animal is supposed to be slaughtered according to Islamic law which insists that it must be done as humanely as possible. This includes laws such as giving the animal water and food to drink, sharpening the knife and not allowing the animal to see it, and not slaughtering the animal in front of other animals. The act of sacrificing an animal is often misunderstood by those who are not Muslim. God has allowed us to eat meat, but only if His name is mentioned when slaughtering the animal. This is to remind us that although this is a necessary part of survival, life is sacred. This meat is a blessing from God and to be shared with those who are less fortunate. For more on animal rights in Islam see here.
Muslims begin their holiday by going to the mosque and offering the Eid prayer. The prayer is offered any time after sunrise, but before afternoon. This is a congregational prayer and usually draws very large crowds of worshippers because even Muslims who do not consider themselves to be observant or practicing, still attend the Eid prayers. Due to the large crowds, this prayer is sometimes offered in a larger facility or public spaces such as a stadium or park. Additionally, the prayer is sometimes performed several times throughout the morning to accommodate the large crowds. The prayer consists of two cycles of the ritual prayer which typically lasts for about five minutes. This is followed by a sermon which typically does not last very long. Before the Eid prayer the congregants chant praises and glorification of God. This is usually done collectively and is very rhythmic and melodious. This chant consists of saying God is great, there is no God except Allah, and all praise is due to Allah.
When the prayer is over, the worshippers congratulate each other, exchange greetings, and then have their own community celebration or family gatherings. Muslims often greet each other by saying “Eid Mubarak” or “Blessed Eid.” People usually wear their best clothes and exchange gifts. Additionally, people often visit family and friends throughout the day and share meals and eat special sweets that are usually reserved for the holiday. Different cultures throughout the Muslim world have varying traditions. Muslims in the West tend to adopt some Western customs in celebrating holidays. When the holiday falls on a weekday, Muslims sometimes request the day off from work or school. However, some Muslims might attend the early Eid prayer and then rush to work for the day.
Eid al-Adha symbolizes the sacrifice Abraham was willing to make by sacrificing his son. Despite his great love for his son, Abraham chose God over everything else. The command to slaughter one’s child was limited to Abraham, but the lessons to be drawn from it remain valid for others. In our lives, we will be faced with choices and we must be willing to make sacrifices for God and the truth. We must sometimes give up what we love, something fun, or something we think is good for us and choose something better for the sake of pleasing God. The word Islam means submission and a true Muslim is one who submits to God and puts God before his or her wants and desires. It is this strength, purity of heart, and sacrifice that God wants to see from us. Humans will always make mistakes, but if God sees the effort on our party, He will forgive those mistakes and shower us with His love and compassion. Have more questions? Call 877-WhyIslam.