What is Eid al-Adha?
Muslims across the globe celebrate Eid al-Adha — the Feast of the Sacrifice — following the culmination of the haj pilgrimage. It is the second of two major religious holidays celebrated by Muslims and is known as the Greater Eid.
The celebration, which will take place this year on September 24th, commemorates one of the trials of Prophet Abraham, who was ordered by God to sacrifice his son Ishmael as a test of faith. After Abraham acceded to the divine order, he discovered that God had spared his beloved son and replaced his sacrifice with a ram, rewarding him for his faith and devotion.
The story is designed to demonstrate Abraham’s devotion to God and is similarly told in the Jewish Torah and the Christian Old Testament. While Muslims say that it was Prophet Ishmael — a progenitor of the Prophet Mohammad — who Abraham was ordered to sacrifice, Jews and Christians contend that it was Abraham’s other son Isaac, one of the Jewish patriarchs.
Every year Muslims across the world sacrifice an animal — usually a goat or a sheep — to commemorate Abraham’s devotion and God’s mercy. According to tradition, the meat from the sacrificed animal is divided into three parts; one-third for the family; one-third for relatives, friends and neighbours; and the remaining third to the poor.
While many Muslim families in the Middle East continue this tradition, purchasing and sacrificing the animal themselves before personally distributing the meat, others prefer to simply buy the meat for themselves and family and pay a charity the equivalent of the third to the poor.
Eid al-Adha is also the culmination of the haj pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam, which includes rites commemorating events in the lives of prophets Abraham and Ishmael. Pilgrims usually celebrate the Eid in Mecca or Medina after returning from Mina where the animal sacrifice is offered.
While pilgrims traditionally slaughtered the animal themselves, the large number of pilgrims who undertake the haj every year means that most will purchase an animal sacrifice voucher in Mecca before haj starts. This ensures that an animal is sacrificed on their behalf to celebrate the Eid.
Eid al-Adha is a public holiday across the Arab world and usually sees Muslims attend mosque for the early prayers, with men and women wearing their best clothes and children often being gifted with new clothes and shoes to celebrate the event.
Mosques are usually filled for Eid prayers, with many Muslims who do not habitually pray attending.
Muslim families and friends will visit each other over the multi-day holiday, while children will receive money from parents and older relatives.
For many modern Muslims, the religious nature of the celebrations are muted and Eid al-Adha is merely an excuse to catch up with friends and relatives over a meal.