What is Eid al-Adha?

What is Eid al-Adha?

To Muslims around the world, the holiday Eid al-Adha is a commemoration of devotion and a testament to sacrifice as the bedrock of Islamic ideas of commitment to Allah and His teachings. 

The name “Eid al-Adha” translates to “celebration of sacrifice” in Arabic. The holiday occurs on the third day of the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj), one of the Five Pillars of Islamic teaching that lies at the core of many Muslim’s religious obligations. Eid will typically last three days, commencing also on the 10th day of the Islamic month, “Dhul-Hajj.”

This holiday is the first major holiday and celebration (“Eid”) in the Islamic calendar year; the second major holiday is Eid al-Fitr. Eid al-Fitr is following the end of Ramadan—a lunar month in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset in religious contemplation.

For most of the Muslim world this year, Eid al-Adha was observed on Sunday, June 16, 2024. However, much of South and East Asia such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and India, observed the holiday on Monday, June 17.

What are the Religious Origins of the Holiday? What Does the Holiday Mean According to Islamic Beliefs?

Eid al-Adha conscientiously draws the attention of Muslims to the story of Abraham and Ismail—a retelling also found in Judaism (in the Torah) and in Christianity (the biblical New Testament).

According to standard understanding in Islam, Abraham (“Ibrahim” in Arabic) is ordered by Allah to sacrifice his son Ismail. But just before Abraham is going to follow the command, the act is halted by the angel Gabriel, who praises his submission to godly will and gives him a sheep as a replacement for his son and as a gift for his devotion. To be understood allegorically, the story emphasizes a dramatic instance of devotion in question: does Abraham, a metaphor for all followers, abide by individual instinct or subdue his personal interests for Allah? Eid al-Adha commemorates the story as a reminder of sacrifice as a part of devotion, but also the unabiding benevolence of Allah. 

In fact, Muslims globally will sacrifice a sheep, cow, goat, or another animal on the day of Eid Al-Adha to symbolically honor Abraham’s commitment to the Islamic moral of sacrifice as a form of devotion. This tradition is referred to by the Arabic words “Qurban” or “udhiya” for Muslims around the world, which imply the sacrifice of cattle. Meat will be divided amongst families and individuals. A portion of the symbolic sacrifice is typically reserved by families for charity (Zakat).

How is Eid al-Adha Celebrated? 

The celebratory traditions are a key part of the holiday for many Muslim communities. Universally, festivities and religious commemoration begin with the Eid prayer. This takes place between the times of sunrise and before the Zuhr prayer– one of the five daily Islamic prayers that usually occurs around midday. 

In the Saudi Arabian city of Mina, pilgrims—en route to the holy Islamic destinations of Mecca and Medina—will engage in “stone the devil,” where they throw rocks at a holy mound, representing an Islamic refute towards the Devil [Shaytan] who tried to obstruct Abraham’s sacrifice of his son.

Gift-giving is also a common tradition; after Eid prayer, families will often give children money, new clothes, and other items in celebration. 

In Iraq and Saudi Arabia, sweet date-filled cookies, or “kleichas,” are baked and shared amongst families in an Eid-specific celebration. In Yemen, bint al-Sahan, a type of cake, is a staple of the holiday for many families. While often a time for Muslim communities around the world to find an escape from daily stresses, Eid al-Adha celebrations are sometimes impacted by economic and political turmoil in their countries. In Gaza, this Eid will not be able to circumvent persisting violence. Read more about how Palestinian celebrations will come face to face with mourning, prevention of entry of sacrificial animals in Gaza, and mosque restrictions in Jerusalem.

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