Eid al-Adha celebrated differently by Druze, Alawites

Friday 25/09/2015
Lebanese Druze sheikhs stand in the courtyard of the shrine of the Prophet Ayub in the mountainous village of Niha south-east of Beirut on April 30, 2014.

Beirut - It is called the “Greater Eid“, compared to the other major Islamic feast, Eid al-Fitr , which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Eid al-Ad­ha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, com­memorating Abraham’s willingness to follow God’s command to sac­rifice his son Ishmael, is observed unanimously by Muslims as well as adherents to offshoot sects of Islam, including the Druze and Alawite.
While for Sunni and Shia Muslims, pilgrimage to Mecca constitutes the apogee leading up to the Eid, the minority Druze community spread out in Lebanon, Syria and the Pales­tinian Territories, sees the ten days preceding the feast, referred to as the “nights of Ashour”, as a time for meditation and contemplation.
“Eid al-Adha is about sacrifice, tolerance and acceptance,” said Sheikh Sami Abilmona, a religious Druze authority in Lebanon. “It is a time when man comes face to face with the futility of material life. It is a time for giving up earthly pleas­ures, the lust for money and mate­rial desires and anything that could prevent him from achieving his hu­manity.”
Although Eid al-Adha is linked to pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam, the Druze belief sys­tem does not include a mandatory obligation to fulfill the journey to the holy place. Abilmona explained that this religious duty, though it stands for the community, is inter­preted and implemented in a differ­ent way.
“The haj (pilgrimage) is a quest of travel in order to be closer to the Cre­ator. In that, we understand that haj is a continuous struggle and quest to be closer to God’s image and to achieve one’s own humanity, which is the ultimate happiness. And Eid is a manifestation of this happiness, or the culmination of this quest,” Abil­mona told The Arab Weekly.
Instead of haj, the Druze attach a special importance to the Ashour nights, during which they fast and say prayers daily at the majlis, their equivalent of a mosque. “It has be­come a tradition that during those days, there is a continuous spiritual exercise to show tolerance, char­ity, patience and mercy,” the Druze sheikh said, stressing that Ashour nights is a means to reach the goal of abiding by God’s rule. Haj is another means to achieve that goal.
The Alawite community, present in small numbers in Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, is more discreet in cel­ebrating Eid al-Adha. “Other sects accuse us of not celebrating Eid al- Adha because we have few pilgrims who go to Mecca, but this is not true. We do observe the Eid like others, though our customs are somehow different,” explained Syrian Alawite cleric Sheikh Mahmoud al-Hamed.
He said, while Muslims have “Eid prayers” at the mosque on the first day of the feast, the Alawites say their prayers at home.
“Eid day begins with a visit to the cemetery to pray at the tombs of the deceased, followed by a big fam­ily meal then visits to relatives and friends and donation of food and gifts,” Hamed said.
Part of Alawite traditions is to have families or groups of families purchase an animal, usually a goat or sheep, to sacrifice. Sunnis and Shias prefer to offer their sacrifices individually, a ritual representing the animal that Abraham sacrificed in the place of his son.
According to Ghazi Sleiman, a Syrian expert in ethnic affairs, the differences of Eid rituals among Ala­wites is not dictated by the religion but rather by history.
“The lack of prayer places in Ala­wite-inhabited regions, made them compensate for that by holding Eid prayers at home and making sacri­fices in a collective way and this has become a rooted tradition,” Sleiman said.
“The suppression to which they had been subjected under Ottoman rule in the 19th century, prompted the Alawite community to practice their religious rituals secretly, which explains their present discretion,” he added.
While religious rituals differed, traditions and customs are largely shared. Eid al-Adha is a time to cel­ebrate, to get together with family and friends, to buy and to share food and presents.
Being the only religious feast for the Druze community, Eid al-Adha is marked by the tradition of mak­ing Kaak el Eid, a special biscuit pre­pared for the occasion. “It is a yearly treat that is appreciated by all, the adults and children, the poor and the rich, and we all look forward to it,” said Leila Salha, a Lebanese Dru­ze woman.
But for Syria’s Muslims, Druze and Alawites, this Eid is not expected to bring joy amid an escalating con­flict ravaging the country for a fifth straight year.
“There won’t be any Eid cel­ebration in Sweida this year, where commemoration will be limited to prayers and increasing assistance to the needy families,” said Syrian Druze cleric Moin Ammatouri.
He lamented that the Eid will rather be a “time for mourning” in the southern Syrian province where more than 40 people were killed, including prominent Druze cleric Sheikh Wahid Balhous in car-bomb attacks in September.
In a region where several coun­tries are engulfed by conflict and turmoil, many Muslims have little or nothing to celebrate. In Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya, the Eid will be another day of survival.