Two of the most important Islamic holidays of the year are `Eid Al-Fitr and `Eid Al-Adha. While the former marks the end of the long fasting month of Ramadan, `Eid Al-Adha marks the end of Hajj, the sacred pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. It’s customary for every able Muslim (as prescribed in the Five Pillars of Islam) to go on a Hajj at least once during his lifetime. Also popularly known as the Festival of Sacrifice, this Muslim holiday, `Eid Al-Adha, commemorates Prophet Abraham’s unselfish act of sacrificing his own son Ishmael to the One God, Allah.
The history behind `Eid Al-Adha follows the story of the faithful Abraham, who was instructed by Allah in a dream to raise the foundations of Kaaba, a black stone, the most sacred Muslim shrine in Mecca (Saudi Arabia), which Muslims face during their prayers (Salat). Immediately responding to the Lord’s call, Abraham set off for Mecca along with his wife and son, Ishmael. At that time, Mecca was a desolate and barren desert and Abraham had to face a lot of hardships. However, he supplicated Allah’s commands uncomplaining. In a divine dream, he also saw himself sacrificing his son Ishmael for Allah’s sake. When he told this to Ishmael, the latter immediately asked his father to carry out Lord’s commands without faltering and assured that he was completely ready to give up his life for God. But miraculously enough, when Abraham was about to sacrifice Ishmael, Allah spared the boy’s life and replaced him with a lamb. And this is what Abraham ultimately sacrificed.
To commemorate this outstanding act of sacrifice by Prophet Abraham, people sacrifice a lamb, goat, ram or any other animal on `Eid Al-Adha and give the meat to friends, neighbors, relatives and the needy. People who are away from the holy pilgrimage, Hajj, also carry out this traditional sacrifice. Hence `Eid Al-Adha is also known as the Feast of Sacrifice or the Day of Sacrifice.
`Eid Al-Adha begins from the 10th day of the 12th Islamic month of Dhul-Hijjah. But, the date of `Eid Al-Adha depends on the visibility of the moon each year. `Eid Al-Adha is known by different names in different parts of the world. For instance, `Eid Al-Adha is known by the name Hari Raya Aidiladha in south-east Asia. In Singapore, the local name for `Eid Al-Adha is Hari Raya Haji and in Malaysia, people refer to this festival as Id al-Adha and has made it a national holiday there. Indians know `Eid Al-Adha as Id al-Adha or Idu’z Zuha. And in Bangladesh, `Eid Al-Adha is known as Eid-ul-Azha or sometimes even Id al-Adha. But, whatever the name, the celebratory spirit of `Eid Al-Adha runs high among Muslims all over the world, the geographical variations notwithstanding.
What does `Eid Al-Adha commemorate?
During the Hajj, Muslims remember and commemorate the trials and triumphs of Prophet Abraham. The Qur’an describes Abraham as follows:
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. (An-Nahl 16:120-121)
One of Abraham’s main trials was to face the command of Allah to kill his only son. Upon hearing this command, he prepared to submit to Allah’s will. When he was all prepared to do it, Allah revealed to him that his “sacrifice” had already been fulfilled. He had shown that his love for his Lord superseded all others that he would lay down his own life or the lives of those dear to him in order to submit to God.
Why do Muslims sacrifice an animal on this day?
During the celebration of `Eid Al-Adha, Muslims commemorate and remember Abraham’s trials, by themselves slaughtering an animal such as a sheep, camel, or goat. This action is very often misunderstood by those outside the faith.
Allah has given us power over animals and allowed us to eat meat, but only if we pronounce His name at the solemn act of taking life. Muslims slaughter animals in the same way throughout the year. By saying the name of Allah at the time of slaughter, we are reminded that life is sacred.
The meat from the sacrifice of `Eid Al-Adha is mostly given away to others. One-third is eaten by immediate family and relatives, one-third is given away to friends, and one-third is donated to the poor. The act symbolizes our willingness to give up things that are of benefit to us or close to our hearts, in order to follow Allah’s commands. It also symbolizes our willingness to give up some of our own bounties, in order to strengthen ties of friendship and help those who are in need. We recognize that all blessings come from Allah, and we should open our hearts and share with others.
It is very important to understand that the sacrifice itself, as practiced by Muslims, has nothing to do with atoning for our sins or using the blood to wash ourselves from sin. This is a misunderstanding by those of previous generations:
It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him. (Al-Hajj 22:37)
The symbolism is in the attitude – a willingness to make sacrifices in our lives in order to stay on the Straight Path. Each of us makes small sacrifices, giving up things that are fun or important to us. A true Muslim, one who submits his or herself completely to the Lord, is willing to follow Allah’s commands completely and obediently. It is this strength of heart, purity in faith, and willing obedience that our Lord desires from us.
What else do Muslims do to celebrate the holiday?
On the first morning of `Eid Al-Adha, Muslims around the world attend morning prayers at their local mosques. Prayers are followed by visits to family and friends, and the exchange of greetings and gifts. At some point, members of the family will visit a local farm or otherwise will make arrangements for the slaughter of an animal. The meat is distributed during the days of the holiday or shortly thereafter.