Muslims have two major holidays: Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha. Eid ul Fitr is a celebration that our fasts done in Ramadan are accepted by Allah (God). Eid ul Adha marks the end of Hajj, the pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah, and honors the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son, Isma’il (Ishmael), on Allah’s command. It is narrated that Ibrahim was initially quite troubled on doing this deed but on the urging of Isma’il, he carried on with a stout heart. As he was about to sacrifice Isma’il, the latter was replaced with a ram by the will of Allah and so the life of Isma’il was spared.
To commemorate such a huge sacrifice (qurbani), Muslims sacrifice lamb, cow, goat or camel and then distribute the meat to family, friends, neighbors and the needy. As the sacrifice is being made, the one doing it says the name of God, Allah, along with a supplication as a reminder that all life is sacred. It is also important to note that there is an etiquette to making the sacrifice. Firstly, the animal being sacrificed has to be mature and cannot be defective or ill as that invalidates the whole meaning of the sacrifice, which is giving up something valuable for the sake of Allah. Secondly, the animal must be fed and well-cared for (as should all the other non-sacrificial animals). Thirdly, the animal is to be faced towards the Qibla (the direction towards the Ka’bah in Makkah) and then quickly cut so that it does not feel pain. Any intentional harm or pain directed towards the animal (or any living being) is not allowed in Islam. The sacrifice is done both by the Hajjis (people who did Hajj) and those at home. People usually hire professional butchers to do the sacrifice but one can also do it on their own. I remember once when my father and brother did it at our home in our birth country. It was a messy affair. I made sure that I was inside when the sacrifice was being made and only came out when they had already begun to cut and clean the goat up.
Because of the nature of this Eid, it is thus known as Eid ul Adha which is translated into Festival of Sacrifice and is also known as Eid ul Kabir (Big Eid). Besides these two names, there are numerous cultural variations such as Eid ul Az ha or Eid uz Zuha. Eid ul Adha starts at the tenth day of the twelfth Islamic month, Dhul-Hijjah, and goes on for three days. This Eid continuously occurs on the same day; however, the dates vary on the Gregorian calendar since the Islamic calendar is lunar and changes accordingly every year.
Regarding Hajj itself, it is fifth pillar of Islam and is mandatory upon all Muslims who are mature (maturity in Islam is when you have hit puberty), sound of mind, and are able to financially and physically take the journey. When one embarks on Hajj, they enter a state called Ihram. In Ihram, the men have to wear two simple, white, unsown garments indicating that wealth, status and culture do not matter as everyone is equal before Allah. The women’s Ihram in terms of clothes is wearing abayas (long dresses) with hijab. There are also other rules that apply during Ihram such as not cutting your nails and hair, not wearing scents, no cosmetics, not engaging in sexual activity and et cetera. A Hajji (pilgrim) must make sure that all such obligations are fulfilled before entering Ihram.
Hajj takes place over a period of five to six days in Dhul-Hijjah. There are specific steps to follow during Hajj. A summary of them would be first circumambulating the Ka’bah (called Tawaf), then walking/running between the mountains of Safa and Marwah (this step symbolizes Abraham’s wife Hajar’s search for water for her son, Isma’il), going to the plain of Arafah and praying for Allah’s forgiveness, and the casting of the stones at the Jamarat (three stone pillars which represent Satan). After this, Tawaf is done again seven times before celebrating Eid ul Adha. Personally, I have never done Hajj, though I did a short version of it called Umrah. However, it was when I was only seven so I don’t remember much of it. I do recall drinking lots of ZamZam (water that spouted near the crying baby Isma’il after Hajar ran back and forth between Safah and Marwah in search of any water). I remember running alongside my father between Safah and Marwah myself also. That was fun. My father and I were racing. I remember my mother pointing out Maqam-e-Ibrahim (Station of Ibrahim), a rock with the imprints of Prophet Ibrahim’s feet and believed to be sent from Heaven to assist him in building the Ka’bah. And I have a sort of glimmering impression in my mind of standing near the Ka’bah and walking around it. I wish I had known the importance of all these actions then. Perhaps, I would have remembered more.
Traditionally, Muslims get ready for Eid day by showering, wearing their best outfits, putting on ittar (an oil extracted from botanical sources and used in place of perfume) and going to the Masjid to listen to a brief lecture and offer a short prayer. Afterwards, many families will do the sacrifice though it doesn’t have to occur on the first day of Eid. Later, people will go visit family, exchange gifts, and eat lunch or dinner together. For my family, we don’t feel all the festivity of Eid ul Adha in America as much since the main part of doing the sacrifice is missing. I know there are meat stores and farms here who allow for one to do the sacrifice, however, I think majority of the Muslims just send the money abroad to have their relatives include their name in a sacrifice. We always do that. Eid here isn’t as boisterous as ones overseas since the majority there celebrates the holiday so you can see everyone dressed up in their finery and feel a palpable excitement in the air. People start shopping for Eid dresses, jewelry, and shoes sometime before the big day and so there is always this eagerness to find out what everyone is wearing. This part of the preparation is just part of the tradition. In the US, we usually just order our clothes online or sometimes my mother sews some of my Eid clothing herself. They look dazzling either way. Some of my friends here do go out to their cultural stores but I doubt the fervor of buying for Eid is as high here because of the lack of variety in modest clothing (though that is changing now).
Nevertheless, I would love to celebrate Eid again overseas one day and experience all the excitement as an adult. But I don’t know how lively it would be for me now there though because most of my family lives either in the UK, USA, or Canada. No matter what though, Eid is an important part of Islam as a religion and a culture.
Background on Abraham and Meaning of Eid:
More on Maqam-e-Ibrahim: http://www.umrahpackagesuk.co.uk/umrah-information/history-and-importance-of-maqam-e-ibrahim/
People’s Experience of Hajj:
Hajj in Tweets by Al-Jazeera: http://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/hajjrealtime/
What are the Islamic Months: http://www.isgr.org/islammonth.htm