Id al-Adha

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Id al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Muslim)
Date of Observation: Tenth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the twelth Islamic month
Where Celebrated: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Africa, and throughout the Muslim world
Symbols and Customs: Ram
Related Holidays: Hajj


Id al-Adha is one of the traditions of Islam, one of the world's largest religions. According to some estimates, there are more than one billion Muslims worldwide, with major populations found in the Middle East, North and sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. In Europe and the United States, Islam is the second largest religious group, with some seven million adherents in the United States. During the early years of Islam, the faith spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula into regions that are today occupied by Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. Contrary to popular opinion, however, Muslims are not just Arabs. Muslims-followers of Islam-are found in many different ethnic groups all over the globe. In fact, Arabs make up less than twenty percent of Muslims.

The word Islam is an Arabic word that means "surrender to God." Its other meanings include peace, safety, and health. The central focus of Islam is a personal commitment and surrender to Allah, the Arabic word for God. In Islam, the concept of Allah is universal and eternal. Allah is the same in every religion and throughout the history of humankind. A person who follows Islam is called a Muslim, which means one who surrenders or submits to Allah's will. But Islam is not just a religion of belief; it is a religion of action. Five specific deeds are required of followers; these are called The Five Pillars of Islam. They are 1) Sha- hadah-confession of faith; 2) Salat-prayer/worship; 3) Zakat-charity; 4) Sawm-fasting; and 5) Hajj-pilgrimage.

The message of Islam was brought by Muhammad (570-632 C . E .), who is considered a prophet of Allah. The holy book of Islam is the Qur'an (also sometimes spelled Koran or Alcoran). According to Islamic belief, the Qur 'an was revealed to Muhammad by Allah over a period of twenty-three years. Authorship of the Qur'an is attributed to Allah, and not to Muhammad; Muhammad merely received it. Muslims believe that because it originated with Allah, the Qur'an is infallible.

There are two main sects within Islam: Sunni and Shi'ite. Sunni Muslims are the majority (estimated at about eighty percent). They recognize the authority of the first four Caliphs, including Ali, and they believe that the Sunna (the example of the Prophet Muhammad) is interpreted through the consensus of the community. Shi'ite Muslims also look to special teachers, called imams. The imams are the direct descendants of Muhammad through Fatimah and Ali. These individuals are believed to be inspired and to possess secret knowledge. Shi'ites, however, do not recognize the same line of Islamic leaders acknowledged by the Sunnis. Shi'ites hold to a doctrine that accepts only leaders who are descended from Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah and her husband Ali. Many Shi'ite subsects believe that true imams are errorless and sinless. They receive instruction from these leaders rather than relying on the consensus of the community.

Just as Muslims celebrate the safe landing of Noah after the flood (see ASHURA), they also commemorate Abraham, Adam, Joseph, David, Moses, and many other great Jewish leaders and prophets. The three-day festival known as Id al-Adha is held in honor of Abraham, from whom they believe that the prophet Muhammad is descended. According to the Qur'an, Abraham had two wives, Hagar and Sarah. With Hagar, he had a son named Ishmael; with Sarah, he had a son named Isaac. The descendants of Isaac eventually became the people known as Jews. The children of Ishmael became the Arabs.

Also known as Id al-Kabir or "the Great Feast," this festival celebrates a particular event in Abraham's life. God told Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Ishmael as proof of his faith. Abraham was fully prepared to comply with God's request, but just as he raised the ax over the boy's head, a voice from heaven told him to stop. He was permitted to sacrifice a RAM instead. Within moments a ram miraculously appeared, his horns tangled up in a bush. So Abraham sacrificed the ram and his son was spared. In the Old Testament, it is Isaac who is nearly killed. Muslims explain this and other discrepancies between the Qur'an and the Bible by saying that some of the stories told in the Bible were corrupted as they were handed down over the years and translated into different languages. They believe that the Qur'an is the final and infallible revelation of God's will. In any case, Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his then only son revealed the extent of his obedience to God. The birth of his second son, Isaac, was his reward.

It is customary during the festival to tell children the story of Ishmael's childhood, particularly how he saved his mother in the desert by kicking at the sand with his foot so that a spring of fresh water gushed out and how he founded the sacred city of Mecca. In fact, the Id al-Adha is the concluding ceremony of the HAJJ or Pilgrimage to Mecca. Pilgrims stop in the village of Mina outside Mecca and sacrifice an animal to commemorate Abraham's show of faith. Those who are not participating in the pilgrimage also carry out an animal sacrifice, usually in their backyard or garden. In countries where there is a large Muslim population, schools, universities, and government offices are closed during the three days of the festival, and the air is filled with the smell of roasting meat.

Although the Id al-Adha is primarily a festive occasion, it is also a time for remembering the dead-similar to MEMORIAL DAY in the United States. Muslims visit burial grounds, decorate the graves with palms, and recite passages from the Qur'an. The women often spend an entire day and most of the night in the cemetery, although the men usually go home after the ceremonies are over.



The ram-although it is sometimes a cow or a lamb-that is sacrificed at the Id alAdha represents the story of Abraham and Ishmael. In commemorating the example set by Abraham, the ram also symbolizes Muslims' readiness to sacrifice their wealth and, if necessary, their lives for the cause of God.

The ram must be slaughtered according to Islamic rules, which means that the sacrifice is usually performed by the male head of the household. He faces Mecca, recites the appropriate ritual words, and then cuts the animal's throat in a single stroke so that it bleeds to death quickly. Women who head households usually ask a male relative or the imam of the local mosque to perform the sacrifice for them, although it is permissible for them to perform the sacrifice themselves if no suitable male can be found.

There is no need for a special license to sacrifice animals in Muslim countries. In Western countries, however, a special license may be required. Sometimes a group Id al-Adha

of license holders will go to the slaughterhouse and sacrifice the animals on behalf of the Muslim community.

The meat from the sacrificed animal is normally divided into three portions, one of which is distributed to the poor. The second portion is given to friends and relatives, and the third portion is eaten at home by the family. In the West, where there may not be any poor Muslims who need the food, the meat is often given to nursing homes.


Ahsan, M.M. Muslim Festivals. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Enterprises, 1987. Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Gaer, Joseph. Holidays Around the World. Boston: Little, Brown, 1953. Glassé, Cyril. The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1999. Gulevich, Tanya. Understanding Islam and Muslim Traditions. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Smith, Huston. The Illustrated World's Religions. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994.


Islam Keighley
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Id al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice; Eid)

10th through 12th days of Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah
This most important feast of the Muslim calendar is the concluding rite of those performing the Hajj or Pilgrimage to Mecca. It is also known as Id al-Kabir, the Great Feast.
For those not on pilgrimage, Id al-Adha is a three-day festival celebrating Ibrahim's (Abraham's) willingness to obey Allah by killing his son, believed by Muslims to be Ishmael, and not Isaac as written in the Old Testament. Muslims consider Ishmael to be the forefather of the Arabs. According to the Qur'an, Ibrahim had an ax poised over the boy when a voice from Heaven told him to stop. He was allowed to sacrifice a ram instead. Many Muslim families reenact this show of faith by sacrificing a cow, a ram, or a lamb on this day, using a portion of it for the family feast and donating one- or two-thirds to the poor.
In Turkey this day is called the Kurban "sacrificial" Bayram . In northern central Africa it is called Tabaski . It is an official public holiday in numerous African countries and elsewhere around the world.
See also Sallah Festival
BkFest-1937, p. 238
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 80
BkHolWrld-1986, Aug 28
ConEncyIslam-1991, p. 178
DictWrldRel-1989, pp. 290, 569
EncyRel-1987, vol. 7, p. 456, vol. 15, p. 458
FestWrld: Saudi-1999, p. 20
FestWrld: Turkey-1999, p. 16
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 153
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MuhFest-1988, p. 34
OxYear-1999, p. 734
RelHolCal-2004, p. 149
UndIslam-2004, p. 363
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
Id al-Adha, also known as Greater Bayram, is celebrated at the end of Mecca pilgrimage.