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The Holiday of Eid al Adha – How the Middle East Celebrates

This is the time of the holiday Eid al Adha in the Muslim world and it takes place on a different date every year. Most of the Western world has never heard of this holiday, so here, with the help of friends of Connect the Cultures, I will give you the history and our firsthand, personal experiences with this holiday.

Eid al Adha, pronounced Eye-EED al Ahd-HA, means the Festival of the Sacrifice.  The literal meaning of the word ‘Eid’ is ‘Happiness’ or ‘Joy. ‘  So the holiday Eid al Adha is a festival of joy where Muslims celebrate happiness by sharing it.

A purple graphic for the holiday Eid al Adha


In the Middle East, it is also called the holiday Eid Al Adha “Al-Eid Al-Kabeer” (the big Eid), because  it is celebrated it for 4 days. The other Eid holiday, Eid El-Fetr, which is celebrated right after Ramadan, is called the small Eid, as it lasts for only 3 days.

The exact date of this holiday, as all Muslim holidays, is not known until several days beforehand, as the Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar and the new moon which signals the start of the holiday cannot be predicted any earlier. However, Eid al Adha does always fall on the third day of Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mekka, the holiest city in Saudi Arabia.

The History of Eid Al Adha

Eid al Adha is called the Feast of the Sacrifice because of a story in the Quran which Christians and Jews will find very similar to a story in the Bible.

As the story goes, Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic), the father of two sons, Isaac and Ishmael (Ismail in Arabic), was told by God (Allah in Arabic) that in order to show his obedience to Him, he needed to sacrifice one of his sons. In the Bible it is said that God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  In the Quran, it is said that Allah told Ibrahim to sacrifice his other son, Ismail.

One night, Ibrahim had a bad dream in which he sacrificed his son Ismail. Ibrahim knew that Allah had a good reason to order such sacrifice from him, and so he took his son Ismail to Mount Arafat, along with a knife and a rope.


Ibrahim about to sacrice his son Ismail, an act which led to the Muslm holiday of Eid al Fitr

When Ibrahim told his son what Allah wanted him to do, Ismail listened and accepted what his father told him.  He said “Father, do what you were asked to do.” Ismail was an exceptional child.  He advised his father to tie his hands and legs and then to blindfold his own eyes so he wouldn’t struggle so much with what he was about to do.

As Ibrahim raised his knife to kill his son, he took the blindfold from his eyes. When he looked down he saw not Ismail, but a dead ram. Ismail was alive!

Then Ibrahim was afraid he had disobeyed Allah. But soon he heard a voice telling him not to worry, as Allah looks after his followers. Ibrahim and Ismail had obviously passed a difficult test.

Nowadays to commemorate and honor Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice Ismail, every Muslim family on Eid al Adha sacrifices an animal, usually a sheep, goat, cow or camel.

The Tradition of Eid al Adha in the Middle East

Early in the morning on the first day of the holiday Eid Al-Adha all Muslims go to pray. The Eid prayer is a small prayer and has to take place at a mosque. Afterwards Muslims greet each other and head for the animal they are going to sacrifice. Fathers usually prefer to take their sons to the mosque and then take them to the slaughter, as they believe making their children witness this scene is a way to make them strong. Sometimes a family member will sacrifice the animal or sometimes they will have a butcher do it for them.

Personal Experiences with the Holiday Eid al Adha

Muhammad, Friend of Connect the Cultures – I remember when I was a child, we bought a goat one month before the holiday Eid al Adha, and so I got attached to this goat, bringing it food and all. I was really sad when the time came for them to sacrifice it. But, as I grew up, I understood the wisdom behind the sacrifice, as it helps to build a more united society. If the rich give to the poor and the neighbours and family receive a part and give a part and all eat from the same sacrifice at the end, it’s really good.


For holiday Eid al Adha sheep and goats are killed. Here are some of their skins lying on the ground at an outdoor butcher shop
Skins from sheep sacrificed for Eid


Sabina, Creator of  Connect the Cultures – When I was living in the UAE, I was intrigued to see last-minute holiday package deals advertised on the internet upon the announcement of the exact date Eid would begin and the length of time government and private sector employees would be allowed off from work. Deals for flights, hotels, rental cars, package vacations and everything appeared overnight. I’d never seen anything like it.


Eid al Adha - people on a beach in Sharjah, UAE
Beach in Sharjah, UAE


Muhammad, Friend of Connect the Cultures – In old Egypt streets (as well as Jerusalem and other places in the Middle East) you can see sometimes drawings and writing on the wall congratulating someone for being able to attend Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mekkah during which Eid takes place. It is very common to see this, and next to it a stamp of a full hand in red. And yes, this is usually from the sacrifice of blood. Adults or children will get their hands wet with the blood of an animal and stamp it to the wall. It is important to say this is just a habit in our culture and not derived from Quran or Sunna.

Holiday Eid al Adha falls during the Hajj pilgrimage. After Hajj, pilgrims will often paint the outside wall of their door as evidence that they have made Hajj. Here is a doorway in Jerusalem painted in red, black and green.
Hajj art on the wall of a home in the Old City, Jerusalem

Sabina, Creator of  Connect the Cultures – In October 2010 I traveled for the second time to Salalah, Oman. This was the month before the holiday Eid al Adha that year. It was then that I learned from my Omani friend Ali that there are two Eids. (Previously I had only known about Eid al Fitr).  Ali took me to a sweet shop where halwa, a jelly-like sugary sweet, was on display in blue, red and yellow dishes. He told me people come to Salalah from all around Oman, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries around the time of Eid just to buy this halwa. I’d never heard of halwa before and it tasted great, so I wanted to learn more. Ali took me to another shop selling halwa where it was also being cooked out back so I could watch it being made.  Here’s a little video I shot showing the making of Omani halwa.

Enjoy the video, and Eid Mubarak (blessed Eid) to our Muslim friends!


Sabina Lohr is a freelance writer who shines a light on the cultures of the Middle East through non-fiction storytelling, interviews with local figures, and insightful articles. She has traveled extensively through the region for more than 15 years and has lived in Israel, Egypt and the U.A.E.

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