As an observance of great sacrifice as well as an opportunity for strengthening the bonds of community, Eid al-Adha is celebrated by followers of Islam through offering charitable donations and gathering to share food and fellowship with family and friends.
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Abraham is a revered figure in Muslim belief as a prophet and leader of faith. Abraham had long held the hope of fathering a son, which he did at a late age. When that son, Ishmael, was very young, Abraham began to have visions of his sacrificing Ishmael at the command of his god Allah.
Steadfast in his devotion to Allah, Abraham prepared to make the sacrifice but was saved from doing so when Allah honored his obedience by sending a ram from heaven to offer in Ishmael’s place.
“Adha is a commemoration of our submission of our will to the will of God,” says Mirza Yawar Baig, founder of Mahmood Habib Masjid and Islamic Center in India and resident scholar at the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts. “The Eid al-Adha festival is a time to feel good about all things: meet people, dress up, eat nice food. But its purpose is to be thankful for God giving us the opportunity to obey him and to try and please him through worship and our actions in very significant ways.”
In the days leading to Eid al-Adha, Muslims devote time to prayer and contemplation much in the manner of Abraham as he struggled with submitting to the will of Allah by making the sacrifice of his son.
“It is an inner reflective journey in reassessing where you are in your faith practice and commitment and closeness to our god, and how you live your life as a reflection of your faith, reflecting on where you are at, and refining and refocusing where your goals should be. We do what we would normally do the rest of the year but with a lot more focus and intention.”—Naz M.
“What I have noticed about myself in the holidays is that I’m less judgmental. I try to be more intentional about what I do and what I say and how I treat people. That allows you to become more at peace with who you are and what you have. Everyone is on their own journey with their relationship with God.”—Yasmin E.
Worship gatherings are an important part of the holiday as people gather at mosques early in the day to offer prayers together that are specific to the holiday.
“The way we celebrate is by worshipping Allah in a special prayer for that festival alone. We say this prayer, then we listen to a short sermon, which is a reminder of the importance of what we have done and the importance of continuing to do these things. The prayer is universal; every Muslim says the same prayer.”—Mirza Yawar Baig
Commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice is also important. Muslims will do this by arranging for the meat of a ritually prepared lamb, sheep, goat, camel, bull or cow to be divided into three portions: a third to be given to charities or persons in need, a third to be distributed to friends and family members, and a third to be kept and consumed personally, although many Muslims will contribute that portion as well.
“We try to make it solemn as well as a good community experience to commemorate Abraham’s sacrifice. It is celebrated as a day of devotion and commitment. People sacrifice so others less fortunate can be fed. In past years, our community has donated 2,000 pounds of meat to food banks in Kansas City, Wichita and Lawrence. In some regions of the world, families cannot find meat during the year, and the meat they receive at Adha is the only meat they get all year.”—Eyyup E.
“The sacrifice is symbolic of Eid al-Adha. The thought behind that is to make sure our gifts to charity get to those in need. For us in cities where you don’t have the facilities for sacrificing, we give money and that’s because our religion is based on intention. If your intention is to give this money toward the sacrifice, then you get noted for the deed even though you didn’t perform it yourself.”—Sam L.
The day is concluded with visits to the homes of family and friends, a tradition similarly observed during Eid al-Fitr. Hosts will prepare recipes not specifically associated with Islam but more food reflective of their own cultures. With an estimated 2 billion Muslims worldwide, that translates to a wide variety of dishes.
“As with any religious holiday, we have food as a prominent part of our celebrations. As a kid in Pakistan, we looked forward to eating. Every culture has traditions and foods associated with holidays.”—Tania M.
“Everyone changes into their new colorful clothes and gets ready, people cook, we go to each other’s homes to enjoy delicacies and conversation. Ahead of time, people in families have already decided who will host in the afternoon or in the evening and what foods and sweets they will prepare. If someone here is away from family, friends will invite them over for lunch and dinner. Our plans and celebrations can extend for three days as well.”—Sam L.
“These celebrations are a lot of joy, a lot of laughter, a lot of informality. Conversation happens in small groups as guests come and go. We usually make visits without a schedule and just call on the way. Usually, families offer desserts and coffee and/or tea. There is an expectation of a visit. If someone doesn’t get visitors, they can get upset and wonder why they are not loved in the community. Younger people are expected to visit older ones as a sign of respect; not meaning elderly people but anyone older, even by a few years.”—Eyyup E.
Join in the observance.
Ask a Muslim friend about attending worship services and group celebrations. Be ready to receive an invitation.
“We celebrate with the community, not just family and friends and not just with our religious community but the full community at large. My wife and I have organized more than 40 community dinners and gatherings with groups including Catholic charities, area law enforcement agencies, Habitat for Humanity and different sects of Christianity, even pagans and atheists. Muslim families will open their homes. Our American friends sign up for what are like progressive dinners in American culture.”—Eyyup E.
Donate to a charity.
Act in the spirit of the holiday and give what you can to those of lesser means.
“This time makes you more sympathetic toward what those who have less than you are feeling. We increase our charity with the belief that our deeds are accounted for and multiplied. It’s a feeling of hope that your worship and seeking forgiveness will be accepted by God almighty and that you are doing everything to please him. Our faith gives us a moral compass. We are fallible human beings, and we can fool ourselves into thinking we are on the right path.”—Naz M.
Acknowledge this might not be easy.
Muslims find that their holidays must adapt to daily life in the United States rather than the other way around.
“Usually, Eid al-Adha falls on a weekday and in the United States, it’s not a public holiday. Usually, our parties will shift to the following weekend. I’ve been sensitive about animal rights and people who might be sensitive to sacrifice, so I tried not to talk about it too much. That’s not the main focus of it.”—Shah M.
“I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Celebrating and observing Islamic holidays over there, our world adjusts. It’s almost easier to observe in those circumstances. That’s the trickiness of celebrating here. Unless you have a big community surrounding you, you have to adjust your life to the holiday while the world around you is not adjusting. It can feel very lonely.”—Tania M.
Reach out and include a friend.
Be aware that circumstances might separate a friend from their community during a very meaningful time.
“When I was younger, it would be pretty exhausting because every year I would have to explain what the holiday is. I think now there is a larger community that is more open about what being Muslim means.”—Yasmin E.
“Going back 40 years coming in as a student, I remember how I felt without access to a mosque and in a community that was not nearly as large. It led to a lot of isolation and loneliness and that geared me to want to start networking, reaching out and creating my own celebrations around these holidays. Some of the families I connected with I remain very close to 40 years later.”—Naz M.
Share your supportive words.
Listening, sharing your thoughts, even offering a friendly greeting can be enough.
“In our company Slack channel, I would make a point to tell anyone who observes Ramadan that I hoped they had easy fasts ahead, and I wished Eid Mubarak to those who celebrate Eid. I had someone new tell me she appreciated that because she felt like she wasn’t alone. In a lot of workplaces, I don’t think there’s a lot of acknowledgement. I don’t think it’s too much to ask companies to acknowledge a holiday that so many people in the world celebrate.”—Yasmin E.
“Since our families are far away, we do send them cards. Sending a Muslim friend an Eid card is a gesture that goes far. I receive cards internationally but not so many locally. A message is something that is cherished. When someone is compelled by friendship to show support by acknowledging a holiday with a card, that’s not something that means you’ve converted to Islam. It’s supporting someone’s celebration of a holiday no differently than wishing Merry Christmas to someone who is Christian. We recognize this is your event and we hope you’re able to celebrate it how you like. In the end, cards create a meaningful emotional connection to anyone.”—Sam L.
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