- Summary: an Islamic festival that celebrates the Prophet Ibrahim offering up his son to Allah
- 2018 Date: 21st – 25th August (sunset to sunset)
- Celebrated by: Muslims
- Linked Holidays: Eid al-Fitr, the Hajj (Islam)
Background and Theological Significance
Eid al-Adha (in Arabic, عيد الأضحى), literally translating as ‘the Feast of the Sacrifice’, is widely considered to be the most important festival in the Islamic calendar. It commemorates the time when the Prophet Ibrahim (usually called Abraham in the Judeo-Christian scriptures) is commanded by Allah to sacrifice his son as a test of his faith and devotion. The son’s name is not given in the Qur’an but is traditionally believed to have been Ishmael; in contrast to the Torah which names the son as Isaac. Ibrahim prepared to sacrifice his son as an offering on Mount Arafat, but when he went to slit his throat he found that his son was unharmed. He then sacrificed a ram instead, having fulfilled Allah’s test of faithfulness. This event demonstrates how Ibrahim was prepared to sacrifice his most beloved son for the service of God, and also God’s ultimate refusal to accept a human sacrifice. The festival of Eid al-Adha is the annual celebration of this event and is of great importance to Muslims. Eid al-Adha is often known as ‘Greater Eid’, in contrast to Eid al-Fitr which is often known as ‘Lesser Eid’. Eid al-Fitr is the celebration of the end of Ramadan and the giving of the Qur’an. Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr together are considered to be the two most important festivals in the Islamic calendar.
The offering by the Prophet Abraham of his son is also an important event in the Jewish Torah, where it is known as the Akedah or the Binding of Isaac; and is in turn included in the Christian scriptures. This demonstrates how the Abrahamic faiths share a significant overlap in the traditions and writings that make up their religious heritage, and how all of them share Abraham / Ibrahim as a founding figure and a great prophet of God.
According to tradition, when the Prophet Muhammad arrived in the city of Medina he found that the local citizens had two great festival days which they celebrated each year. Muhammad declared that Allah had chosen two greater feasts to replace these days, which were the festivals of Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr. These festivals have been celebrated amongst Muslims around the world ever since.
Eid al-Adha always occurs on the 10th Day of Dhu’l-Hijjah, the twelfth and final month of the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar is composed of twelve lunar months that reach a yearly total of 354 or 355 days, meaning that it is a full ten days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, the celebration of Eid al-Adha in the Gregorian calendar falls behind approximately ten days each year.
The celebration also coincides with the annual Islamic pilgrimage known as the Hajj, when Muslims make a religious journey to the Kaaba in Mecca. All Muslims are encouraged to make the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. The Hajj occurs between the 8th and 13th Days of Dhu’l-Hijjah, meaning that Eid al-Adha falls two days after the start of the pilgrimage. Although there is no definite link between the two observances, many of the traditional features of the Hajj include homages to the story of Ibrahim and the celebration of Eid al-Adha.
Eid al-Adha is a time for Muslims to remember the great faith of Ibrahim, and to build up their own lives of faith. The offering of sacrifices should not take away from the requirement that every Muslim offers themselves to the glory and service of Allah. In the Qur’an it states; “their meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you” (Surah Hajj 37), meaning that it is faith rather than physical sacrifices that bring the believer closer to Allah.
The festivities of Eid al-Adha start at sunset on the 10th Day of Dhu’l-Hijjah and last for four days. It is typical for Muslims for greet people with the salutation ‘Eid Mubarak’ meaning ‘blessed celebration’ and is reserved only for the two Eid festivals. Muslims will usually visit the mosque on the morning of the first day in order to worship and to recite the special Eid prayers. It is also traditional to sacrifice an animal (normally a cow or a ram) in celebration and in commemoration of Ibrahim offering up his son to Allah. It is then divided into three parts: one part for the family, one part for friends and relatives, and one part for the poor. Muslims often wear their best clothes and gather together with communities in order to celebrate this most important day of the faith. Eid al-Adha is the most important celebration in the Islamic calendar and is a time for all Muslims to remember the central importance of faith to their religious journey.