Every year, Muslims look forward to two of the most important festivals of the Islamic calendar – Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha.

Eid Al Fitr, which is also known as the Feast of Breaking the Fast, falls on the first day of the Islamic month, Shawwal, which follows the holy month of Ramadan. The joyous three-day festival is the conclusion to Ramadan when Muslims fast for a month. In addition, it is a time when Muslims celebrate the occasion with family and friends and give charity to those in need. In most Muslim countries, the entire three-day festival is an official government/school holiday.

Approximately 70 days after Eid Al Fitr comes Eid Al Adha. Known as the Festival of Sacrifice, Eid Al Adha is a remembrance of Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son when God ordered him to. The Eid or festival is also known as the Great Festival as it lasts longer than Eid Al Fitr, lasting for four days rather than three.

Eid Al Adha is always on the same day of the Islamic calendar. The date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year since the Islamic calendar is lunar and the Gregorian is a solar calendar.

The Origin of Eid Al Adha

Eid Al Adha celebrates the occasion when Allah appeared to Prophet Ibrahim in a dream and asked him to sacrifice his son, Ismail, as an act of obedience to Allah. This was Allah testing Ibrahim’s faith by commanding him to sacrifice his beloved son.

Although Ismail was willing, the devil tempted Ibrahim by saying he should disobey Allah and spare his son. When Ibrahim did not fall for the bait and was about to kill his son, Allah stopped him, announced that the ‘vision’ had been completed and gave him a lamb to sacrifice instead. This willingness to sacrifice is honoured and celebrated during Eid Al Adha, which enjoys special significance because Al Adha or the Day of Sacrifice marks the climax of Hajj or Pilgrimage, the fifth pillar of Islam.

Note: This story is also found in the Jewish Torah and the Christian Old Testament (Genesis 22) where it says God asked Abraham (Ibrahim) to sacrifice his son, Isaa, by his wife, Sarah. In the Holy Quran, Ismail was Ibrahim’s son by Hagar.

Prophet Ibrahim

Prophet Ibrahim is also known as Abraham or Abra in other Abrahamic or monotheistic religions including Christianity and Judaism. In Islam, Prophet Ibrahim is seen as a link in the chain of prophets that begins with Adam and culminates in the messenger and prophet of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Prophet Ibrahim is one of the most important prophets in Islam – among the 25 prophets mentioned in the Quran. The Quran describes him as ‘a man of truth, a prophet’ (Quran 19:41). Many aspects of Islamic worship, especially during the time of pilgrimage and prayer, recognise and honour the importance of the life and teachings of the Prophet.

Prophet Ibrahim was the father of Prophet Ismail and Prophet Isaa, and the grandfather of Prophet Jacob. He is also an ancestor of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The Hajj Pilgrimage

Eid Al Adha is the time where millions of Muslims travel to Al Masjid Al Haram in Mecca in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) to perform a pilgrimage called Hajj, which is a mandatory religious duty in the Muslim faith. It is also the largest annual pilgrimage of people in the world.

Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and therefore very important to Muslims and their faith. It is to be carried out at least once in their lifetime. During the Hajj, pilgrims perform acts of worship, and they renew their faith and sense of purpose in the world.

All adult Muslims who are physically fit and who can financially afford Hajj are obligated to make the journey to Makkah at least once during their lifetime. For this reason, the physically disabled and the poor are exempt from this Islamic obligation. During pregnancy and menstruation, women are also free from performing Hajj. The state of being physically and financially capable of performing the Hajjis called istita’ah, and a Muslim who fulfils this condition is called a mustati.

The male Hajjis or pilgrims wear simple white clothes called Ihram which promotes the bonds of Islamic brotherhood and sisterhood by showing that everyone is equal in the eyes of Allah. The male pilgrims also shave their heads bald for Sunnah, which is the way of life prescribed as the norm for Muslims based on the teachings and practices of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and interpretations of the Quran. Female pilgrims cover their bodies from head to toe with the exception of their faces and hands.

Each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaaba, the cube-shaped building which acts as the Muslim direction of prayer, then runs back and forth between the hills of Al Safwa and Al Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, and throws stones in a ritual Stoning of the Devil. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice, and celebrate Eid Al Adha.

Many of the rites of Hajj refer back directly to Ibrahim and his life. In the Arabian Peninsula, Ibrahim, Hagar and their infant son Ismail found themselves in a barren valley with no trees or water. Hagar was desperate to find water for her child, and ran seven times between two hills but found none. It was when she returned in despair that she saw the baby Ismail kicking on the ground, from where a spring emerged and she was able to quench their thirst. This spring, called Zamzam, still flows through Makkah. During Hajj, Muslims reenact Hagar’s search for water when they pace several times between the hills of Safa and Marwa.

The Kaaba itself is believed to have been rebuilt by Ibrahim and Ismail. There is a spot just next to the Kaaba, called the Station of Ibrahim, which marks where it is believed he stood while erecting the stones to raise the wall.

The Celebrations

Muslims all over the world celebrate Eid Al Adha. In Muslim countries, Eid Al Adha is a public holiday where those who can afford it sacrifice a sheep (sometimes a goat, camel or a cow) as a reminder of Ibrahim’s obedience to Allah. The sacrificed animal is then divided into three parts. One third is given to the poor, one is divided among relatives and the remaining third is cooked and eaten by the family. This is how the festival gets its alternative name ‘Feast of Sacrifice’.

Sacrificing sheep on Eid Al Adha is as symbolic as turkey at Christmas and Thanksgiving in the US and Canada. Once the animal is sacrificed, Muslims share the meat among family; relatives, friends, neighbours, and most importantly, the poor; each family will get a third. Some Muslims choose to donate the money which they would spend buying and sacrificing the animal to the poor or donate the animal itself to the poor in celebration of the ‘Feast of Sacrifice’.

Like many other holidays, Eid Al Adha is celebrated with plenty of food including meat as well as cookies, cakes and other sweets. Some Muslims might also decorate their homes with lights or ornaments such as lanterns, stars and crescents.

Muslims will also exchange gifts, and give money to children as well as to the poor. Muslims will also buy new clothes to wear during Eid.

Quick Extra Facts:

  • Eid Al Adha is also known as Eid Al Kabir or The Big Eid.
  • Eid Al Adha is celebrated from the tenth day of the lunar month of Dhu Al Hijja.
  • Traditionally, Eid Al Adha celebrations last for four days although Eid Al Adha is a three-day festival. In many Muslim countries, only three national public holidays are announced. 
  • ‘Eid Mubarak’, which translates as Blessed Eid, is used by Muslims across the world to greet one another during both Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha.
  • It is believed that the first 10 days preceding Eid Al Adha have great significance as they are meant to motivate and encourage Muslims for Eid. A Muslim must do maximum Ibadat, which means worship, service or servitude, in these days and then as an expression of reward, one celebrates Eid Al Adha.
  • Eid Al Adha is meant to make a Muslim more virtuous in his or her deeds. It’s not only about offering sacrifices; rather Muslims are meant to learn hidden lessons of freedom from selfish desires and to elevate a Muslim from anything that hinders his ability to fulfil his responsibilities as a Muslim. Allah says in the Quran:
  • ‘Their meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you. Thus have We subjected them to you that you may glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and give good tidings to the doers of good.’ (Surah Hajj:37)

Author: Ola Diab

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