Eid al-Adha

Last week Muslims celebrated one of the biggest holidays on the Islamic calendar, Eid al-Adha.  Eid al-Ahda is also known as the “feast of sacrifice”.

Sheep await slaughter as preparations for Eid al-Adha, which is on October 15th this year, get under way. [courtesy of Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Shorfa]

Sheep await slaughter as preparations for Eid al-Adha, which is on October 15th this year, get under way. [courtesy of Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Shorfa]

What is Eid al-Ahda?

Eid (pronounced ‘eed’) al-Ahda takes place at the end of Hajj (Muslim’s annual pilgrimage to Mecca) and lasts for three days, this year beginning on October 15.

It celebrates the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son to demonstrate his devotion to Allah.  The story, a similar version of which is also found in the Christian Old Testament and the Jewish Torah, tells us how Allah appeared to Ibrahim in a dream and demanded that he sacrifice his first born son, Ishmael, as an act of submission.  Despite temptations from the Devil to the contrary, Ibrahim would not be dissuaded.  As Ibrahim was about to sacrifice his son, Allah intervened.  Allah praised Ibrahim for his faith and allowed him to sacrifice a lamb in his son’s stead.

Traditions of Eid al-Adha

On the first morning of Eid al-Ahda Muslims attend prayers at their local mosques.  Prayers are followed by greetings and visits with friends, where gifts are often exchanged.  Perhaps unsurprisingly in recent years, the traditions regarding visiting family and friends have changed somewhat.  Today many Muslims are as likely to make phone calls or send messages through social media than get together in person.

In Cairo this year, due to the ongoing demonstrations, the government restricted access to many of the main squares, including Tahrir, Rabaa al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda in an attempt to minimize the chance of violence breaking out.

A hallmark of Eid al-Adha is the sacrifice of an animal, often a sheep or goat, by those who can afford to do so as a symbolic remembrance of Ibrahim’s sacrifice.  The meat from the animal is divided into thirds, with one being retained by the family, another going to relatives, friends and neighbors, and the last going to the needy.

Eid al-Adha and me

My wife had the entire week off to celebrate a combination of Canadian Thanksgiving and Eid al-Adha, so we decided to get out of Cairo and see a bit more of the country.  For this trip we opted for Luxor and Hurghada.

Unfortunately we missed the first day of Eid al-Adha celebrations in Luxor (October 15) as we needed to take an early bus to Hurghada that day.  With Hurghada being a beach resort town it didn’t appear that the holiday was celebrated to the same extent as it was in Luxor (at least it wasn’t in the area of the city we were in).

That said, while in Luxor we definitely noticed that locals were preparing for the festival in the days leading up to it.  The most obvious thing we saw was the presence of animals in the streets – even more-so than usual!  We saw cows, goats and sheep gathered in seemingly random areas just off the main streets.  We assumed this was because they were being brought into the city for purchase by individuals for the celebrations.  As we were eating lunch on October 14 the restaurant owner happily showed off his sheep that he would be sacrificing the next day.

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Sheep that the restaurant owner would be sacrificing the next day

As we were leaving on the bus the morning of Eid al-Adha, we also caught a few glimpses of cows being bled out and butchered in the streets.  Not exactly pleasant sights, but I suppose it’s not really any different than what occurs in slaughter houses (aside from the food safety concerns!), so I guess it was okay.

Another interesting thing we were told by the owner of Luxor Stables was that the two businesses that are the busiest during Eid al-Adha are barbers and butcher shops.  Butcher shops seemed obvious given the animal sacrifices that are central to this holiday.  I wouldn’t have guessed the barber shops, but seeing as Muslims are also expected to look their best for the celebrations, I suppose it makes sense.  Sure enough we saw several barber shops with line ups out the door later that day.

Next year we’ll have to make sure we’re out of the city (preferably somewhere more rural) and it not be a travel day, so that we can experience Eid al-Ahda celebrations a little more fully.

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