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Muslims around the world are preparing to celebrate Eid al-Adha, one of the two most important festivals in the Muslim calendar.
Up to 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide will be kicking off celebrations today to mark the beginning of Eid Al-Fitr following a month of fasting.
Eid al-Fitr – Arabic for “the feast of the breaking of the fast” – is when Muslims return to regular eating cycles and thank Allah for sustaining them during Ramadan, which they hope has “brought them closer to God”, explains The Independent.
The annual celebration was first marked by the Prophet Mohammed in 624CE following a victory in battle. With Ramadan ending on 14 June this year, Eid began as the moon rose yesterday evening, and can continue for up to three days.
Eid al-Adha falls on the tenth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and final month in the Islamic calendar.
In the international solar Gregorian calendar, the dates drift about 11 days earlier each year.
The sighting of the new moon will vary between countries, so the exact date depends on local religious authorities.
The moon also determines the date of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest city for Muslims.
It is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims, that must be carried out one in their lifetimes by all adults who can physically and financially undertake the journey.
It is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with Shahadah (belief in the oneness of God and acceptance of Muhammad as prophet), Salat (prayer), Zakat (charity) and Sawm (fasting).
Followers of Islam observe a number of traditions during Eid al-Fitr, including donating money to charity. British Muslims are estimated to give an average of around £370 each to charity during Ramadan, according to the Charity Commission.
But what is this significance of this ancient religious festival, and how is it celebrated across the world?
The date always varies
The day on which Eid al-Fitr begins is determined by a confirmed sighting of the new moon after a month of fasting, so the date changes every year and varies geographically.
The five-day holiday, also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice, or Greater Eid, is distinct from Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.
Centred on prayer and animal sacrifice, Eid al-Adha symbolizes Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son as a sign of devotion to Allah.
How many Eids are there?
Eid-al-Fitr, also known as ‘Meethi Eid’, marks the end of Ramadan, when Muslims break their month-long fast. The date of Eid-al-Fitr is determined by the confirmed sighting of the new moon. This year, the festival was celebrated on 15 June.
What does Eid al-Adha celebrate?
During the Hajj, Muslims remember and commemorate the trials and triumphs of the Prophet Abraham. The Qur’an describes Abraham as follows:
“Surely Abraham was an example, obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the polytheists. He was grateful for Our bounties. We chose him and guided him unto a right path. We gave him good in this world, and in the next, he will most surely be among the righteous.” (Qur’an 16:120-121)
Islamic scripture tells how Allah commanded Ibrahim – known as Abraham to Christians and Jews – to sacrifice his son as a test of his devotion. Despite his love for the boy, 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.
In commemoration of this, the slaughtered animal is divided into three parts: one third is given to the poor and needy; another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbours; and the remaining third is kept by the family.
When is Greater Eid this year?
The date of Eid al-Adha also varies in accordance with the Islamic lunar calendar, falling on the tenth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th month. The exact beginning of the festival varies depending on location, but in the UK, Eid al-Adha begins on Tuesday 21 August and ends on Saturday 25 August.
How is Greater Eid celebrated?
In Muslim countries, Eid al-Adha is a public holiday that involves animal sacrifice, known as Qurbani, prayers and family gatherings. The day begins with morning prayers, followed by visits to family and friends and the exchange of food and gifts. Muslims traditionally greet each other on the day by wishing one another “Eid mubarak” (Blessed Eid) or one of many regional variations on the blessing.
Worshippers who can afford to will slaughter an animal, typically a sheep or a goat, during Greater Eid celebrations as a symbol of Ibrahim’s sacrifice to Allah.
All animals have to meet certain standards in order to qualify for sacrifice. They cannot be ill, blind, visibly lame and emaciated and minimum age restrictions apply.
In Pakistan alone, nearly ten million animals are slaughtered on Eid, the International Business Times reports.
Believers are expected to share their food with the less fortunate.
Traditionally, the meat is divided into three equal parts: one for the home; one for family, friends and neighbors; and one for the poor. Muslims are also expected to make donations to charity to mark the festival.
The eye-catching centerpiece of the festival, however, is the sight of around two million worshippers dressed in white gathering at Mecca for a five-day pilgrimage called Hajj.
What does the Hajj involve?
The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, and is an integral part of the Muslim faith. According to The Holy Quran, all Muslims who can afford to should make the journey to Saudi Arabia at least once in their lifetime.
Every year, at least two million will make the pilgrimage, circle the huge black Kaaba shrine – built by Ibrahim, according to Islamic tradition – and pray to Allah. The prophet Muhammad said that a person who performs Hajj properly “will return as a newly born baby [free of all sins]”.
Pilgrims usually fly to Jeddah and then travel by bus to Mecca, where there are two rituals to perform: the lesser pilgrimage, or Umrah, and the main pilgrimage, or Hajj. Pilgrims are expected to wear special white clothes – also called ihram – and to carry out several days of rituals where they pray, repent for past sins and take part in a symbolic “stoning of the devil”.
The sheer number of believers able to carry out their religious duty thanks to modern transportation has made the 21st century Hajj a spectacular sight, but also a nightmare for Saudi authorities trying to keep upwards of two million pilgrims safe.
In 2015, more than 2,000 people were crushed to death in a bottleneck of densely packed crowds, the deadliest incident in Hajj history. Since the tragedy, the Saudi government has deployed extra security forces and installed thousands of CCTV cameras to monitor the crowds.
Hajj is intended to be an empowering event in a Muslim’s life, with spiritual merit and the opportunity of self-renewal.
Last year, about two million Muslims travelled to Mecca for Hajj.