Faith FAQ’s: What is Eid al-Adha?

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Eid al-Adha is the greater of two major holidays on the Muslim calendar, celebrated following the completion of Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca, prescribed to Muslims as one of the five pillars of Islam. You don’t have to have gone on Hajj to observe this Eid. Here in Jordan, as in many Muslim-majority countries, it was a week-long holiday from school and work.

Known also as “The Feast of the Sacrifice,” Eid al-Adha commemorates the willingness of Abraham – or Ibrahim – to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, at God’s command. (As you may know, there is a parallel and nearly identical story found in Judaism and Christianity in which Abraham is prepared to sacrifice his other son, Isaac. According to Islamic tradition, Ishmael is said to be the progenitor of the Arab people. Just as Abraham is preparing to sacrifice his son, God intervenes and offers a lamb in Ishmael’s place. Eid al-Adha is thus a time to recall and reflect upon having complete trust and faith in God, or Allah.

The date of Eid al-Adha is based on the lunar calendar and falls 10 days after the sighting of the new moon which marks the beginning of the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah. This year, Eid officially began at sunset on October 14.

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During Eid, many Muslims honor Abraham’s faith and devotion to Allah by sacrificing a lamb, sheep, goat, camel, or cow. Families often keep one third of the meat, share another third among relatives and friends, and distribute the last third to the poor and those who may not be able to afford their own. Gifts and meals are exchanged, people dress up and often purchase new clothes. Many make visits to extended family and friends throughout the week and attend extra prayers at the mosque.

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We live on a lively street in Amman that is normally full of honking horns, loud voices, and music of all genres blasted from car windows (my recent favorite is an attempt to bring back the song “Barbie Girl”). But this week has been surprisingly quiet in comparison. Many have left town for vacation and family visits. Many of those who stayed home seem to be taking the opportunity to spend extra time with friends and relatives. It’s been fun to ask people about their own traditions and plans, and to offer the greeting of “Eid Mubarak!” (Happy Holidays!)

For our part, we invited a family we’ve gotten to know over the past month (a mother and her two sons, ages 8 and 10) to our apartment for dinner. We tried to prepare a meal they may not otherwise have the opportunity to eat in Jordan, and managed to scrape together ingredients for quesadillas with chips and salsa, brie cheese with butter crackers, and a few other odds and ends. Not the fanciest dinner, but it was a big hit and a festive evening. Before they left, they dubbed Melissa and me with pretty adorable nicknames of endearment – Mimi and ChooChoo.

Do you have any favorite traditions, stories, or photos from Eid this year or previous years? If so, feel free to send them along or post them here!

4 Comments

  • Reply October 18, 2013

    Islamic Inspiration

    Nice to see you’re getting involved and seeking to understand the local culture! Here’s an insight into my family’s life in British Columbia, Canada:

    My wife, two kids aged 3 & 4yrs and myself spent our early morning doing our final touches at home in preparation of hosting an “Eid Dinner”. This was all before the morning Eid prayer at the local mosque. After all the decorations, treats and furniture looked ‘just right’, we headed to the mosque.

    It is tradition to recite “God is the greatest, there is no deity worthy of worship except God, and to him is due all thanks” repeatedly during the day. This was the familiar refrain that welcomed us as we opened the doors to the mosque. After the sermon, the entire community hugged and greeted each other with the phrase “Eid Mubarak” (as you mentioned as well). Then it was off to the farm. Yes, a farm!

    The kids and I had met with Farmer McDonald (Yes, haha, McDonald) earlier in the week and picked out a sturdy looking sheep. That morning, we went to the farm and slaughtered the sheep as a symbol of sacrifice. The process is quite specific. The knife has to be extremely sharp, the animal should not be badly treated etc, and the death should be quick and merciful. As strange as this scene might sound in a country such as Canada, the kids watched solmnly, then continued playing with the other animals and running around the green fields. All the while talking in their own way about what ‘sacrifice’ means.

    Skinning, disembowling and butchering a large animal is not pleasant to do or watch, but it’s part of the experience. We managed to pack up all the kids and leave the farm pretty quickly. This time with bags of freshly packed meat in the trunk, and a sense of gratitude and humility in our hearts. The meat was distributed as you eloquently detailed.

    Back home we immediately went in to host/hostess mode and prepared to welcome the guests to our home. It was after 8pm when everyone finally made their way home. Masha-Allah (May God be pleased), it was a wonderful family day!

  • Reply October 19, 2013

    Chelsea Scudder

    Thank you so much for sharing, Islamic Inspiration! I’m so happy to learn about your own traditions and practices and glad that you enjoyed a happy Eid!!! 🙂

  • Reply October 22, 2013

    David White

    I’ve just stumbled upon your blog and found the articles very interesting, especially this one. It’s truly an eye-opening article that I will definitely share with others.
    Thanks so much for the great info. Kudos!

    • Reply October 22, 2013

      Chelsea Scudder

      Thank you, David! I really appreciate the feedback and glad you found the article interesting!

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