Eid al-Adha, also called the Festival of Sacrifice, falls on Monday, Sept. 12, 2016 in North America. It is one of two annual feast festivals Muslims celebrate and coincides with the annual pilgrimage to Mecca known as the hajj.
The timing of the holiday depends on when Saudi Arabian religious authorities see the new moon at the start of the Dhu al-Hijjah month, according to the Islamic calendar. For weeks, some U.S. Muslim leaders worried it would fall on Sept. 11, raising concerns that non-Muslims might misinterpret celebrations occurring on the solemn anniversary of the 2001 al Qaeda attacks.
Those fears dissipated in early September when authorities announced the holiday would take place on Sept. 12.
Muslims celebrate the Eid al-Adha to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael in obedience to God in scripture. Today, celebrants frequently mark the day by slaughtering animals to feed the poor.
According to the Quran, when Ishmael (known as Isma’el in Arabic) was 13, his father, Abraham, or Ibrahim, began having dreams in which God instructed him to sacrifice Ishmael (Quran Surah 37). Unbelievable as the dreams were, Abraham decided to follow Allah’s instructions — but not before asking Ishmael if he would agree to this.
His son did not hesitate, showing ultimate submission to God’s will by telling his father to go through with the sacrifice. But at the very moment that Abraham raised the knife, Allah told him to stop — they had passed the test — and to replace Ishmael with a sacrificial ram. In the Quran, Abraham is rewarded for his faith with a second son, Isaac.
Muslims observe and prepare for Eid al-Adha in a number of ways. Before the festival, the faithful acquire new clothing and visit with family and friends. At dawn on the day of Eid, Muslims recite the traditional declaration of faith, the Takbir, followed by the pre-sunrise communal prayer, Salat al-Eid, which is also said on Eid al-Fitr. Worshipers then greet friends with the traditional Arabic salutation of Eid Mubarak (“Have a blessed Eid”) and exchange gifts.
In a symbolic act, some Muslims who can afford it slaughter a cow, goat, sheep or camel, keeping a portion to feed themselves and distributing the rest to friends, family and those in need. Those who can’t afford it frequently buy meat from a halal butcher to distribute. Giving out this meat, in addition to the morning prayers, is considered an essential component of Eid al-Adha.