What is Eid al-Adha?

Think of a time when you celebrated someone else’s achievement.  Maybe it involved your favourite sports team (the winning goal in the Stanley Cup).  Maybe it was your child (straight A’s).  Or perhaps it was about someone whom you have never met, but their actions have shaped your thinking, experience, and way of life (military and political freedom).

With that idea of celebration and commemoration in your mind, multiply both the number of people involved and the intensity of emotion and devotion, and you will end up with an experience something like the annual Islamic feast of Eid al-Adha.

Although there are divisions within Islam (Sunni, Sufi, etc), there are a number of common threads that bind the groups together.  Along with belief in the Qur’an and the Five Pillars, Muslims around the world celebrate two feasts and three festivals.  The observance of the two feasts varies from region to region, but the intention is the same.

The second of the two feasts is Eid al-Adha, which can be translated as the “Feast of Sacrifice” or the “Great Feast”.  The feast starts on the tenth day of the month of Dhu al-Hijja, which this year is October 15th.

The feast of Eid al-Adha commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael, as an act of obedience to Allah.  The story is recounted in Sura 37:100-107 of the Qur’an, where it describes Allah’s last minute intervention and provision of an animal sacrifice instead.

Each year, Muslims remember and celebrate this event as part of the Great Pilgrimage to Mecca (Saudi Arabia).  The feast is preceded by a ritual called the Stoning, in which each pilgrim throws seven stones down a slope, at three specified locations along the journey.  The throwing of the stones commemorates Ishmael’s response to Satan as he tempted Ismael to run away from his father Abraham.  Ishmael threw stones at Satan instead of running away.

During the feast of Eid al-Adha, the head of each household ritually slaughters an animal and prepares a feast, giving a portion of the food to those who are in need, whether friends or strangers.  The animal sacrifice is a remembrance of the animal that Allah provided to Abraham in place of Ishmael.

The feast itself lasts for three days, after which all pilgrims return to Mecca one last time.  For Muslims in other parts of the world, the Great Feast and it rituals are similar, although the pilgrimage element is limited to those who can travel to Mecca.

At the beginning of this posting, I talked about celebrating someone else’s achievement.  For Muslims, Eid al-Adha is a celebration of the actions of someone who lived thousands of years before Mohammed.  How has the information in this summary deepened your understanding of Islamic history, spirituality, or current events?

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