Muslims across the world predominantly celebrate two festivals — Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adhaa. Just over a month ago, we celebrated the Eid-ul-Fitr, popularly known as the festival marking the end of the Islamic holy month, Ramadan. And now starts the countdown to the next Muslim holiday, which falls on the 20th of August, 2018.
Back home in India, these festivals marked auspicious occasions but were also huge occasions to enjoy and have a great time with family and friends. But now that I have moved to the US, how have things changed?
For starters, Eid Al Adha falls during the Dhu al-Hijjah, the twelfth month on the Islamic calendar. The twelfth month is not the only thing that makes this Eid special, this period also captures the month of the Hajj pilgrimage. We will discuss Hajj in a separate post, but for now, Eid-ul-Adha is considered the holier of the two Islamic holidays. The Islamic calendar differs a lot from the western Gregorian calendar, in that it runs on the lunar cycle, instead of the Gregorian solar cycle. The sighting of a crescent moon officially heralds the end date of a given month.
Diving deeper into the immense religious significance of this festival, we introduce the life of prophet Ibrahim (Abraham). One of the main trials of Abraham’s life was to face the command of God to sacrifice his dearest possession, his son. The son is not named in the Quran, but Muslims believe it to be Ishmael, though it is mentioned as Isaac in the Bible. Upon hearing this command, Abraham prepared to submit to the will of God. During this preparation, Shaitan (the Devil) tempted Abraham and his family by trying to dissuade them from carrying out God’s commandment, and Abraham drove Satan away by throwing pebbles at him. It is the commemoration of their rejection of Satan that stones are thrown at the symbolic pillars during Stoning of the Devil during Hajj rites.
When Abraham attempted to cut his son’s throat on mount Arafat, he was astonished to see that his son was unharmed and instead, he found a ram which was slaughtered. Abraham had passed the test by his willingness to carry out God’s command. This story is known as the Akedah in Judaism (Binding of Isaac) and originates in the Torah, the first book of Moses.
With such pious significance, needless to say, Eid-ul-Adha holds profound importance in the Islamic religion. The day involves offering special prayers, greeting elders, siblings and friends, cooking delicacies, wearing new or clean clothes, feasting, exchanging gifts, and most imminently — conducting the animal sacrifice and distributing the meat among the poor and the needy, and friends and family.
The holiday starts with offering special prayers at the Eidgah, a special open-air enclosure reserved for Salah for the two Eid holidays. Women, in many cultures, usually offer the prayers indoors, while men visit the Eidgah to render the Salah (Prayer). People greet each other and convey regards and blessings. It is a sight to behold watching great congregations of people from all walks of life standing together in the name of God offering Salah! In India, the Jama Masjid located in Old Delhi, is jam-packed with men visiting the beautiful mosque to offer the Eid prayers. The way each person bows down together is absolutely a breathtaking moment.
The animal sacrifice is evidently the focal-point of the festival and the meat is divided into three equal parts: one third of the share is given to the poor and needy; another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors; and the remaining third is retained by the family. In several cultures, aside from rams and goats, camels and cow are also used for the holy animal sacrifice. Now, post the prayers, families gather for a sumptuous meal that mostly is cooked out of the sacrificed animal meat. In most South Asian countries, Biryani is a popular dish that is a staple at feasting occasions. The entire family sits down to enjoy the food together thus promoting holistic happiness and prosperity. Gifts are exchanged and food is shared with family and friends. Elders often surprise young children with money gift known as ‘Eidi’ in the spirit of the festival.
People visit each other, neighbors greet each other — basically, it is a celebration of togetherness as a community. It’s beautiful, it’s joyful, and symbolizes love, peace, and brotherhood — the founding principles of Islam. Both the Eid festivals highly recommend helping the needy as serving the community is a crucial part of the Islamic traditions across boundaries.
I have been celebrating Eid away from home since the past two years. It has been difficult to miss out on the celebrations with family, especially offering prayers together and spending times with my loved ones. However, this gave me an opportunity to find new people here in my current residence, Cincinnati. It helped me to connect with the local community, some of which are immigrants as well. We all meet at the mosque, offer prayers, greet each other, learn new things about the religion, and then head out for lunch together. We try to make the Eid experience as homely as possible so we dress up well and involve ourselves in the Eid celebrations by being there for each other and serving others in the name of spirituality. I am blessed to have my own bunch of close friends now who I now call ‘family,’ and the best part is that it keeps ‘growing.’ Alhamdulilah (Praise to God).
Written by Gulnaaz Afzal, an aerospace engineering international student at the University of Cincinnati and the Executive Editor at The International Student Voice (ISV)