Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice)
Hajj is the name for pilgrimage to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, Islam’s holiest site. It is the fifth of the Five Pillars of Islam and is an obligation for all Muslims, at least once in their lives, as long as they are physically able and can afford it.
Hajj occurs in the month of Dhul Hijjah, which is the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The pilgrimage to Makkah reminds Muslims of their key belief in the equality of humankind before Allah (Arabic word for God), because each person takes part in worship and rituals on exactly the same basis. Every year, over two million Muslims will make the pilgrimage.
Hajj prompts Muslims to reflect and think on their own lives. Modern lifestyles are hectic, but Hajj gives Muslims the opportunity to switch off from work and everyday issues. It also allows Muslims to reconnect with what is really important and focus on spiritual matters.
One of the most famous ritual is that Muslims all must circle the huge black cube in Makkah – known as the Kaaba , which was originally built by the Prophet Ibrahim, known as Abraham to Jews and Christians.
As a sign of consecration, Muslims wear very simple white clothes. Men wear seamless long white robes while the women wear plain white dresses (or sometimes coloured) with scarves. These are symbolic of the equality of all people in the eyes of Allah and to signify parity between rich and poor.
After the rituals of Hajj are completed, Eid-ul-adha (Festival of Sacrifice), also known as the Greater Eid is celebrated. It is the second most important festival in the Muslim calendar, (the first being Eid-ul- Fitr after the month of Fasting – Ramadan).
Islamic scripture tells how Allah commanded Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son as a test of his devotion. Despite his love for his child, Prophet Ibrahim duly prepared to carry out Allah’s command. However, at the last moment, Allah tells Ibrahim to spare the child and sacrifice something else instead. In remembrance of Ibrahim’s willingness to submit himself to the divine will, Muslim families traditionally sacrifice an animal during Eid al-Adha.
This story is also found in the Jewish Torah and the Christian Old Testament (Genesis 22). Here God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, his son with Sarah. Isma’il was his son with Hagar.
Muslims all over the world, who can afford it, sacrifice an animal often a sheep as a reminder of Ibrahim’s obedience to Allah.
The meat from the sacrifice of Eid al-Adha is mostly given away to others. One-third is eaten by immediate family and relatives, one-third is given away to friends, and one-third is donated to the destitute. The act symbolises 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 symbolises 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 recognise that all blessings come from Allah, and we should open our hearts and share with others.
On the day Eid, my day starts with dressing myself and my boys in new outfits and going to the Mosque for congregational Eid prayers. We then spend the rest of the day with loved ones, visiting family and friends, offering them presents. As a young girl, I remember going with my parents to collect meat from the butchers and distributing this to family and friends followed by a family feast cooked with one third of the meat at home in the evening. Now I see my children look forward to Eid and treasure the gifts that they receive and the happiness they enjoy twice a year with the two Eids. It really is such a delight.