Eid al-Adha (KK-3)

Eid al-Adha, also known as the Feast of Sacrifice or “big Eid”,  is one of the two majors religious festivals in Islam. The other one is Eid al-Fitr, which occurs at the end of the holy month of Ramadaan, in which Muslims are supposed to fast. It commemorates the Qu’ranic tale of Ibrahim's (Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice Ishmael, his son as an act of obedience. In Christianity and Judaism, the son in this story is Isaac. God gave a ram as an offering to save his son. It is celebrated on the tenth say of Dhul Hijjah, which is the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. The holiday lasts for 5 days.

Festivities and Traditions

The participants sacrifice domestic animals, typically goat or sheep, and distribute the meat to the poor. This serves as a symbol of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. Sometimes families, or groups of families, purchase a udhiya, which is a domesticated animal that represents the animal Ibrahim sacrificed in place of Ishmael, to sacrifice. This is customarily only done in countries where Islam is the majority. In places where Islam is a minority, the observers of the holiday generally donate money to charity.

In addition to this, it is expected that one wears new clothing. The elite purchase 5 new sets of clothing, one for each day; however, commoners typically made 1 or 2 sets of clothings. Another tradition is that you are clean shaven for the Eid prayers. Another tradition is that all Muslims perform a ritual body washing shower called ghusl before walking to the place of prayers. Muslim men who have lost loved ones typically visit the graveyard during Eid al-Adha.

Changes Over Time

Before the 1900s, the holiday wasn’t solely religious, but also had a social element to it. The holiday was the climax of the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are supposed to make at least once in their life if possible.

According to Nasma Abdul Muhsin, after the 1900s, the holiday can be split into two different time periods, before and after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Before the tsunami, Eid al-Adha was less religious and included more joyful festivities. There were typically stage shows and feasts that everyone attended. The holiday started with separate small gatherings for prayer at mosques. After the tsunami, religion and Sunnah (verbally transmitted teachings and such of Muhammad) became more prominent. The celebrations began with a mass prayer in any large open space. After the mass prayers, the sacrificing of the Udhiyah would take place.

How it Relates to the Core Values of Islam

KaabaIslamic traditions almost always have something to do with helping the less fortunate and creating community. Unlike Judaism and Christianity, Islam focuses on making sure everyone has enough to get by. There are several Islamic holidays where one of the main purposes is to give to the poor. Eid al-Adha observes are encouraged to donate to charity if not also sacrificing an animal to distribute to the poor.

The five pillars of Islam are reflected in this holiday. One of the pillars of Islam is Zakāt, which is charity, and this holiday stresses the importance of giving to those in poverty. Another pillar is the hajj, which is the pilgrimage to Mecca, and this happens at the climax of the journey. While this is the climax of the hajj, it is also the most dangerous part of the hajj. With thousands of people going back and forth between the pillars and the Ka’bah, it is possible to be killed by the stones being launched through the air. In previous years people have indeed been injured or killed from this exact threat. The pillars are 3 walls in Mecca known as jamarat. Muslims travel there to participate in the stoning of the jamarāt, which symbolizes the stoning of devils. The Ka’bah is a square building that the center of the most sacred mosque in Islam that is located in Mecca. Muslims also consider this the most sacred place on all of Earth. When Muslims travel there during the hajj, the partake in walking around the Ka’bah in hopes to kiss and touch the black stone, which is embedded in the eastern corner of the building.

During the last three days of the hajj, as a sign of spiritual rebirth and renewal, men shave their heads completely and remove the white garments they wore for the rest of the hajj, and women cut a small lock of hair off. When the pilgrims return home from the hajj, they are greeted with congratulations from neighbors and their homes are usually decorated with festive lighting.

Countries Eid al-Adha is Celebrated

Eid al-Adha is a public holiday in Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and a few other places.  In other countries, such as: Australia, Canada, the USA, and the United Kingdom, it is not a nationwide public holiday; however, there are still some Islamic organizations within the countries that may be closed or offer a reduced amount of service. There may also be some congestion around the mosques.

In places like the US where Eid al-Adha isn’t a national holiday, the opening prayer is commonly held at a park. Other countries where Eid al-Adha is a national holiday, the opening prayers at held at any large open space, and they are most often easy to find due to most of the country partaking in the celebration.

Personal Reflections

Being a Christian living in the United States, I had never even heard of this holiday before this project was assigned, nonetheless known what it was. As I learned about I found it remarkable how so one holiday could stress the importance of being  charitable so much. It amazed me to think that this is one of several Islamic traditions that revolved around community, and that Christianity has so little that do.

Another contrast between the two religions that I noticed was the importance of the story of Abraham(Ibrahim) being willing to sacrifice Isaac/Ishmael to God. Islam has a holiday dedicated to celebrating this remarkable story; whereas in Christianity it’s just another bible story you on Sunday, if you’re a churchgoing fellow.

I found it interesting to learn how the big parts of Islam overlap with their holidays. I don’t know much about their other holidays, so maybe it’s only true for this one, but I thought it was neat how the hajj is such an important part of the Islamic religion and Eid al-Adha takes place during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.


Can you explain more about why the 2004 tsunami was such a catalyst for this holiday tradition?


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