Eid-al-Adha literally means “festival of the sacrifice”.
At the end of the Hajj (annual pilgrimage to Makkah), Muslims throughout the world celebrate the holiday of Eid-al-Adha. In the lunar-based Islamic calendar, Eid-al-Adha falls on the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijjah and lasts for three days.
What does Eid al-Adha commemorate?
During the Hajj, Muslims remember and commemorate the trials and triumphs of the Prophet Abraham (pbuh). The Qur’an describes prophet Abraham (pbuh) as follows:
“Surely Abraham was an example, obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the polytheists. He was grateful for Our bounties. We chose him and guided him unto a right path. We gave him good in this world, and in the next he will most surely be among the righteous.” (Qur’an 16:120-121)
One of Abraham’s (pbuh) main trials was to face the command of Allah to sacrifice his only son. Upon hearing this command, he prepared to submit to Allah’s will. When he was all prepared to do it, Allah revealed to him that his “sacrifice” had already been fulfilled. He had shown that his love for his Lord superseded all others, that he would lay down his own life or the lives of those dear to him in order to submit to God.
Why do Muslims sacrifice an animal on this day?
During the celebration of Eid al-Adha, Muslims commemorate and remember Abraham’s (pbuh) trials, by themselves slaughtering an animal such as a sheep, camel, or goat. This action is very often misunderstood by those outside the faith.
Allah has given us power over animals and allowed us to eat meat, but only if we pronounce His name at the solemn act of taking life. Muslims slaughter animals in the same way throughout the year. By saying the name of Allah at the time of slaughter, we are reminded that life is sacred.
The meat from the sacrifice of Eid al-Adha is mostly given away to others. One-third is shared by immediate family and relatives, one-third is given away to friends, and one-third is donated to the poor. The act symbolizes our willingness to give up things that are of benefit to us or close to our hearts, in order to follow Allah’s commands. It also symbolizes our willingness to give up some of our own bounties, in order to strengthen ties of friendship and help those who are in need. We recognize that all blessings come from Allah, and we should open our hearts and share with others.
It is very important to understand that the sacrifice itself, as practiced by Muslims, has nothing to do with atoning for our sins or using the blood to wash ourselves from sin. This is a misunderstanding by those of previous generations:
“It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him” (Qur’an 22:37)
The symbolism is in the attitude – a willingness to make sacrifices in our lives in order to stay on the Straight Path. Each of us makes small sacrifices, giving up things that are fun or important to us. A true Muslim, one who submits his or herself completely to the Lord, is willing to follow Allah’s commands completely and obediently. It is this strength of heart, purity in faith, and willing obedience that our Lord desires from us.
What else do Muslims do to celebrate this festival?
Narrated by Al-Bara;
The Prophet went towards Al-Baqi (the grave-yard at Medina) on the day of Eid-ul-Adha and offered a two-Rakat prayer (of Eid-ul-Adha) and then faced us and said, “On this day of ours, our first act of worship is the offering of prayer and then we will return and slaughter the sacrifice, and whoever does this concords with our Sunna; and whoever slaughtered his sacrifice before that (i.e. before the prayer) then that was a thing which he prepared earlier for his family and it would not be considered as a Nusuk (sacrifice.)” A man stood up and said, “O, Allah’s Apostle! I slaughtered (the animal before the prayer) but I have a young she-goat which is better than an older sheep.” The Prophet (p.b.u.h) said to him, “Slaughter it. But a similar sacrifice will not be sufficient for anybody else after you.” (Sahih Bukhari Chapter No: 15, Hadith: 93)
Thus, according to Sunnah, on the first morning of Eid al-Adha, Muslims around the world attend morning prayers at their local mosques. Prayers are followed by visits with family and friends, and the exchange of greetings and gifts. At some point, members of the family will visit a local farm or otherwise will make arrangements for the slaughter of an animal. The meat is distributed during the days of the holiday or shortly thereafter.