Eid al-Adha: What It Is and How It’s Celebrated

The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha is known as the “Festival of Sacrifice” in English. Eid al-Adha, also written as Eid ul-Adha, celebrates the biblical story of the Prophet Ibrahim’s testing by God. The festival marks the completion of the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

With some of the largest celebrations taking place in Saudi Arabia, Eid al-Adha is celebrated by Muslims all over the world. Significant celebrations take place in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, and elsewhere.

When Is Eid al-Adha?

The Feast of Sacrifice is the second holy day in the Muslim year. It falls on the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, which is the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. In the Gregorian calendar, the festival day takes place in June, July, or August.

The festival follows the Day of Arafah, which is a day of fasting and considered the holiest day in the Islamic year.

Eid al-Adha 2021 was celebrated on July 20th. The coronavirus pandemic changed the nature of the holiday this year, most notably for the hajj pilgrimage itself. Only 60,000 Saudis were allowed to make this pilgrimage due to pandemic concerns. All were masked for safety.

Why Is Eid al-Ahda Celebrated?

Eid al-Adha finds it origins in holy figures recognized in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam: the prophet Abraham, or Ibrahim, and his sons.

According to the Qu’ran, Allah commanded Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his first-born son, Ismail, or Ishmael, who was the brother of Isaac. Ibrahim consented with immense grief, but Allah intervened at the last moment to save the boy. Then, Allah required Ibrahim to sacrifice an animal to show his faith.

For this reason, Muslims commemorate the story by sacrificing goats, sheep, cows, or camels.

The Qu’ran also says that as Ibrahim struggled to carry out Allah’s orders, Satan visited him and attempted to thwart the prophet’s faith in God. Ibrahim remained faithful, however, and threw stones at Satan to drive him away.

Muslims symbolically reenact the incident during the Hajj pilgrimage when they reach the town of Mina, just outside the city of Mecca. There, they stop and throw stones at the pillars marking the spot Satan stood during his encounter with Ibrahim.

What Are the Rituals of Eid al-Adha?

On the first day of the festival, participants say special Eid prayers known as the “Salat al-Eid.” These are followed by a “khutbah,” which is a special sermon. When the prayers and sermon have finished, it is time for the animal sacrifice, called Qurbani. In some regions, special livestock markets appear for the festival to cater to the high demand.

Once an animal has been sacrificed, its meat is distributed among three groups: the immediate family of the person who made the sacrifice, their extended family and friends, and people in need.

Generosity is so important in Islam that every member of a Muslim family must share a portion of meat from the sacrifice.

Different animals represent different numbers of portions. For example, a goat is one portion of meat. A cow or camel counts as seven portions. While an individual might choose to sacrifice a goat and share that portion of food, a large family may prefer to sacrifice a cow and give away seven portions, one for each member.

It is important that animals sacrificed during the festival are facing Mecca when they die. It is also important that they feel as little pain as possible and do not suffer. The sacrifice is made by the head of the household or a person of authority in the community.

Some Muslims, instead of sacrificing an animal, will donate the equivalent monetary value of an animal to charity. The charities that receive such donations will use the funds to purchase and sacrifice animals whose meat they distribute to the poor.

How is Eid al-Adha Celebrated?

Once the animals are butchered, they are prepared into a number of dishes. The sacrifice is meant to be the first meal anyone eats on the day of Eid al-Adha, which means that mealtimes vary from household to household.

It is customary to visit friends and family during this time and share the food together. People greet each other with the words, “Eid Mubarak,” which translates to “Have a blessed Eid” in Arabic.

In Turkey, one might prepare “kelle paça” soup, a traditional spicy dish made with the head and bones of the animal. Indian Muslims often stew a mixture of sheep’s meat and rice, called “mutton biryani.” Many people throughout the Middle East enjoy “haleem,” which is a mutton and grain stew. Kebabs and various kinds of curry are also a staple of the festival, as are sweetened rice desserts.

Elder family members will usually have gifts for the children of their household to mark the occasion. It is traditional to give money; however, other items such as books or toys are exchanged as well.

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Eid al-Fitr is a different Islamic festival that marks the end of Ramadan. You can learn more about how Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr here and here.