To my bafflement last month, I discovered there were no less than two Eid holidays. This might be because Eid, the literal translation from Arabic, means festival! So Eid al Adha actually means the festival of sacrifice. Around the world, especially in North Africa, it is known as Eid al Kabir, to signify this is the greater of the two Eids, the other of course being Eid al Fitr, the festivities pertaining to the end of Ramadan.
The significance of the current Eid holiday actually revolves around the Old Testament story of the binding of Isaac by Abraham. However reading more about this, there are significant differences in the story as written in the Quran and passed down in the Hadith, the report of the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed. For example, though the Christian and Judaic traditions read the story as the binding of Isaac, the Muslim tradition reads this as the binding of Abraham’s only son, whom Muslims believe to be Ishmael. In all three religious traditions, religious beliefs originate from both the original texts and the interpretations and sayings of wise scholars. Though not an expert on any of these, I will try to describe my understanding.
Though the request to sacrifice his only son devastated Abraham deeply, out of his loyalty and faith, he decided to go through with God’s wishes. According to tradition, Abraham consulted his son Ishmael directly, and Ishmael also remarkably agreed that if it was God’s will, it should be done. According to the Quran and Hadith, the devil tried to fervently dissuade Abraham from fulfilling the task of sacrificing his only son for God, until Abraham himself threw stones at the devil to ward him off. This struggle against the devil was a sign of Abraham’s pure faith in God, that he could not be dissuaded from this task. To reference my recent post on the Hajj, it is for this reason that pilgrims at the Hajj partake in the symbolic stoning of the devil.
As Abraham wielded his knife above Ishmael, ready to sacrifice his only son, miraculously the still body on the sacrificial stone became a ram. With God’s loving oversight, Ishmael remained unharmed. Pleased with Abraham’s display of faith and obedience, God then went on to grant the 99-year-old man a second son named Isaac. To this day, Muslim’s commemorate this event all over the world by sacrificing a cow, camel, goat, or sheep (the ram being a male sheep) depending on the region.
During Eid, men are required to attend prayers at the local mosque, which occasionally are performed outside in honor of the special time and to accommodate everyone. Families will take part in pre-dawn prayer known as fedgir, before grooming themselves and donning their nicest clothes to maintain their personal cleanliness and holiness. Often the first morning of Eid is spent at an open market sponsored by the waqf, a temporary operation put together in honor of the Eid holidays.
After older male members of the family sacrifice the chosen animal, the meat is divided into three parts. One third is to go to the needy; another third for extended family and friends; and the last is kept for the family to enjoy themselves. It is also quite common for employed people who receive a salary, to give a small sum of money to each of the family’s children.