Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid al-Adha, one of the two most important festivals in the Muslim calendar.
The five-day holiday, also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice, or Greater Eid, is distinct from Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.
Centred on prayer and animal sacrifice, Eid al-Adha symbolises Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son as a sign of devotion to Allah.
How many Eids are there?
Two. Eid-al-Fitr, also known as Lesser Eid, marks the end of Ramadan, when Muslims break their month-long fast. The date of Eid-al-Fitr is determined by the confirmed sighting of the new moon. This year, the festival was celebrated on 25 June.
What does Eid al-Adha celebrate?
Islamic scripture tells how Allah commanded Ibrahim – known as Abraham to Christians and Jews – to sacrifice his son as a test of his devotion. Despite his love for the boy, Ibrahim duly prepared to carry out Allah’s command. However, at the last moment, Allah tells Ibrahim to spare the child and sacrifice something else instead. In remembrance of Ibrahim’s willingness to submit himself to the divine will, Muslim families traditionally sacrifice an animal during Eid al-Adha.
Non-Muslims will probably recognise the story from the Bible, where it appears in a similar form. Interestingly, Muslim scholars generally identify the son in question as Ishmael, Abraham’s son by his concubine Hagar, whereas in the Jewish and Christian tradition it is Isaac, Abraham’s son with his wife Sarah, who narrowly avoids sacrifice.
Another difference is that, in the Islamic version of the tale, Ibrahim tells Ishmael about Allah’s command, whereas the Biblical Abraham did not reveal his intentions to Isaac. As the Koran tells it, Ishmael readily accepts his fate and urges his father to comply with Allah’s will. Therefore, Eid al-Adha is a commemoration of both father and son for their example of obedience and submission to the divine will.
When is Greater Eid this year?
The date of Eid al-Adha also varies in accordance with the Islamic lunar calendar, falling on the tenth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th month. The exact beginning of the festival varies depending on location, but in the UK, Eid al-Adha begins on Friday 1 September and ends on Tuesday 5 September.
How is Greater Eid celebrated?
In Muslim countries, Eid al-Adha is a public holiday that involves animal sacrifice, prayers and family gatherings. The day begins with morning prayers, followed by visits to family and friends and the exchange of food and gifts. Muslims traditionally greet each other on the day by wishing one another “Eid mubarak” (Blessed Eid) or one of many regional variations on the blessing.
Worshippers will slaughter an animal, typically a sheep or a goat, during Greater Eid celebrations as a symbol of Ibrahim’s sacrifice to Allah. The animals have to meet certain standards in order to qualify for sacrifice, Arab News reports. They cannot be ill, blind, visibly lame and emaciated and minimum age restrictions apply. Believers are expected to share their food with the less fortunate, as well as make donations to charity to mark the festival.
In Pakistan alone, nearly ten million animals are slaughtered on Eid, the International Business Times reports. In Britain, anyone wishing to sacrifice a sheep has to make arrangements for it to be slaughtered humanely.
The eye-catching centrepiece of the festival, however, is the sight of around two million worshippers dressed in white gathering at Mecca for a five-day pilgrimage called Hajj.
What does the Hajj involve?
The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, and is an integral part of the Muslim faith. According to the Koran, all Muslims who can afford to should make the journey to Saudi Arabia at least once in their lifetime. Every year, at least two million will make the pilgrimage, circle the huge black Kaaba shrine – built by Ibrahim, according to Islamic tradition – and pray to Allah. The prophet Muhammad said that a person who performs Hajj properly “will return as a newly born baby [free of all sins]”.
Pilgrims usually fly to Jeddah and then travel by bus to Mecca, where there are two rituals to perform: the lesser pilgrimage, or Umrah, and the main pilgrimage, or Hajj. Pilgrims are expected to wear special white clothes – also called ihram – and to carry out several days of rituals where they pray, repent for past sins and take part in a symbolic “stoning of the devil”.
The sheer number of believers able to carry out their religious duty thanks to modern transporation has made the 21st century Hajj a spectacular sight, but also a nightmare for Saudi authorities trying to keep upwards of two million pilgrims safe. In 2015, more than 2,000 people were crushed in a bottleneck of densely packed crowds, the deadliest incident in Hajj history. Since the tragedy, the Saudi government has deployed extra security forces and installed thousands of CCTV cameras to monitor the crowds.