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What is Eid al-Adha?

Eid al-Adha, often referred to as “the Feast of Sacrifice”, is one of the most significant celebrations in the Islamic calendar. It marks a time of joy, prayer and community, intertwined with acts of generosity and gratitude. But what exactly are we celebrating, and why does it hold such a deep meaning for Muslims around the world? Let’s delve into the roots and contemporary practices of this auspicious festival.

The historical significance

At the heart of Eid al-Adha is the commemoration of an immense act of faith by Prophet Ibrahim. According to Islamic tradition, Prophet Ibrahim, in his steadfast devotion, was willing to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to Allah’s command. However, Allah, seeing his unyielding faith, provided a ram to be sacrificed instead of his son. This event underscores themes of devotion and sacrifice that are crucial to Islam.

Timing and duration

The timing of Eid al-Adha is determined by the lunar Islamic calendar. It falls on the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, right after the Hajj pilgrimage. The festivities continue for three days, providing ample time for community gathering and spiritual reflection. The starting point varies each year using the Gregorian (365-day) calendar, and it still relies on lunar sightings to mark the official start, so can be at various times of day. In the UK, the start is expected to be:

  • the evening of 16 June in 2024
  • the evening of 6 June in 2025
  • The evening of 26 May in 2026

Qurbani: the act of sacrifice

Central to Eid al-Adha is the practice of Qurbani, the ritual animal sacrifice. This act serves as a direct echo of Prophet Ibrahim’s readiness to sacrifice his son for Allah. Muslims who are financially able partake in this tradition by sacrificing an animal, such as a sheep or a goat, and then distributing its meat in three equal parts:

  • to family
  • to friends or neighbours
  • to the needy.

This distribution represents a powerful message of equality and communal support within Islamic teachings.

Eid prayers and observances

On the morning of Eid al-Adha, Muslims gather for special congregational prayers held in mosques and large open areas. These prayers are followed by a sermon that typically highlights themes of sacrifice and charity. It’s a poignant reminder that personal sacrifice goes beyond the mere act of animal slaughter; it extends into sacrificing time, wealth and ego for the betterment of humanity.

Sunnah acts of worship

Devout Muslims also engage in various Sunnah acts of worship throughout the three days of Eid al-Adha. These include reciting Takbir (glorifying God) on the way to and from prayer grounds. That is supposed to embody good character, and shows humility through deeds such as forgiving past grievances and offering charity.

Differences from Eid al-Fitr

While Eid al-Adha shares some similarities with Eid al-Fitr, such as prayer and festivity, there are distinct differences mainly revolving around their reasons for celebration. For instance, unlike Eid al-Fitr, where eating before the Eid prayer is traditional, during Eid al-Adha, it’s preferable to eat after the sacrifice has been made.

Community and charity

Eid al-Adha is a vibrant way to foster community spirit. Organising gatherings and offering invitations not only strengthens family and neighbourhood ties but also brings joy to those who might be isolated or new to the community. These acts of charity, kindness and celebration among the community are all part of the tradition.

Enjoy the celebrations

Eid al-Adha allows Muslims worldwide to reconnect with their faith’s core values: faithfulness, gratitude and a commitment to helping those in need. Through its rituals and customs, Eid al-Adha offers profound lessons on devotion and communal harmony that resonate far beyond these three sacred days.

Whether you’re partaking in it for the first time or want to deepen your existing understanding, Eid al-Adha stands as a beacon of spiritual enrichment and generosity. Celebrate it with an open heart and let its timeless messages cultivate peace and empathy in your life and in your community.