Thursday, January 12, 2006

Middle East Culture - Islam: Eid and Hajj

Every Eid Al Adha Mohammad Hani heads off to prayer with his sons. To him, Eid is a time of the year to step back and look at the bigger picture.

“It's a very spiritual time for our family during which we like to think of others; from family members we haven't seen for a while to other people in need of help,” Mohammad explains.

The family follows their morning prayers by the annual tradition of sacrificing and offering the meat to the less fortunate; “ it is our duty to God. I do it to thank Him for the blessings in our lives by sharing a little with others less fortunate. We should try to give more often,” says Mohammad.

The rest of the day he spends with the family visiting relatives where they drink Arabic coffee and try fresh home made mamoul cookies, a holiday speciality stuffed with dates, walnuts or pistachio.[snip]

Cosmetics shop owner

“I will start the first day of Eid Al Adha, with the Eid prayer, a special prayer for Muslims performed at dawn on the first day of Eid. I will accompany three of my children to the prayer,” said the 39-years- old businessman.

Khalil said that after the prayers he will go with his 59-year old father, his children and some of his relatives, to the graveyard to visit the tombs of his relatives and friends.

“This is something traditional in Islam, I usually go with other members of my family members to visit the tombs of our relatives and beloved friends and pray for them over the Eid period. To visit the tombs of relatives and friends and pray for them is something common in Islam,” Khalil told The Jordan Times.

“After we return from the graveyard, all my family members, my parents and sisters gather for breakfast and share opinions on what to do during Eid. Then, after breakfast I give my kids and parents the Eidiah (a money gift usually given to children and female relatives during Eid).

After afternoon prayers, Khalil said he will buy a sheep, slaughter it, keep some of it and distribute the rest to poor neighbours. [snip]

University student

To Sara, Eid is all about spending time with her family. “Everyone is so busy throughout the year, so Eid is an excellent occasion for us to get together,” she explains.

This Tuesday, Sara will be waking up early to visit her relatives and enjoy lunch in a restaurant with her parents and four sisters.

“As a kid, Eid was about the presents and getting money from my parents. I've come to realise growing up a different meaning to it in spending time with my family and its spiritual aspect.” [snip]

By the spiritual aspect, Sara means Hajj, a dream she has not fulfilled but is in her plans for the future. “I can imagine it to be an extraordinary experience — for all these people to come together regardless of race or background and join each other for the single purpose of worshipping God.”

While sacrificing is not an annual tradition in her family, it is still a valuable part of Eid Al Adha. “It helps us become less self-centred and think of others less fortunate.”

Eid al Adha

If you're wondering why there is so much "slaughtering" of animals during Eid, it is not simply a hold over pagan part of the celebration. It actually has meaning. Eid commemorates:

Prophet Ibrahim's (ed...Abraham)willingness to sacrifice his son for God.

According to Islamic tradition:

Muslims believe that God revealed in a dream to Ibrahim (Prophet Abraham) to sacrifice his son Isma’il. Ibrahim and Isma’il set off to Mina for the sacrifice. As they went, the devil attempted to persuade Ibrahim to disobey God and not to sacrifice his beloved son. But Ibrahim stayed true to God, and drove the devil away. As Ibrahim prepared to sacrifice his son, God stopped him and gave him a sheep to sacrifice instead. The story is also a part of the other Abrahamic religions

Isma'il was Abraham's first son by Sarah's handmaiden, Haga and is considered by Muslims to be the son whom God referred to as a sign of his covenant with Abraham and that it was Isma'il's sons that would inherit the land of Caennan, now called Israel, Palestinian territories, the Sinai, parts of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria (the Levant).

In Judeo-Christianity, the son that God spared Abraham from sacrifice was Isaac, his second son by Sarah.

The purpose of slaughtering sheep or other animals is to commemorate the gift of the sheep in place of Abraham's son. Giving gifts to family is an outcrop of this celebration, much like giving gifts at Christmas time to commemorate the gifts of the wisemen to Jesus. Slaughtering extra sheep or animals and giving it to the poor is another representation of Allah (God) showing mercy and kindness to his faithful servant (as in "believer").


The Hajj or Haj (Arabic: حج Ḥaǧǧ) is the Pilgrimage to Mecca (or, "Makkah") and is the fifth of the "Five Pillars of Islam" in Sunni Islam and one of the ten Branches of Religion in Shi'a Islam. Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so is obliged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his/her lifetime.

To symbolize the equality of the pilgrims, whether prince or pauper, the pilgram wears a simple ihram or white robe like garment. Men and women go on the Hajj. It can be performed at any time of the year, but the special time is during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah which usually coincides with Ramadan and Eid.

Muslims circle the Ka'aba four times and then three more counter clockwise. The pilgrims then walk between the hills of Safa and Marwah to re-enact Hagar's frantic search for water, before the Zamzam well was revealed to her by God.

In the Abrahamic tradition, Judeo-Christian and Islam, Sarah asked Abraham to force Hagar to leave, taking Isma'il with her. Depending on which version you read, it was either because of jealousy or because Sarah felt Isma'il would injure her son. In either case, Abraham took Hagar to the desert with little food and water after he had a dream that God told him He would look after Hagar and that Isma'il would, like Isaac, father 12 princes (from whom Islam believes Arabs are descendent). After nearly starving to death and suffering dehydration, carrying her son for some distance, Hagar was shown the well.

Some Muslims believe that the Zumzum well has special healing powers, though other sects like Wahhabism, discourage the belief as idolatry.

The pilgrim dons the ihram once again and performs the final three acts of faith. This is known as the Al Hajjul Akbar, or "greater hajj." The duties of the greater hajj are:

Journey to the hill of Arafat and spend an afternoon there. The journey usually takes three to five days for the full round trip. At the plain of Arafat, the pilgrim stays from afternoon until sundown. No specific rituals or prayers are required during the stay at Arafat[snip]

Upon returning from Arafat, pilgrims travel to the city of Mina just outside of Mecca, and participate in the stoning of the devil. This requires collecting a number of pebbles from the ground on the plain of Muzdalifah (various Hajj accounts list the number of pebbles as between 49 and 70), and throwing the pebbles at the three pillars at Mina, which represent the devil. All three pillars represent the devil: the first and largest is where he tempted Abraham against sacrificing Ishmael, the second is where he tempted Abraham's wife Hagar to induce her to stop him, and the third is where he tempted Ishmael to avoid being sacrificed. He was rebuked each time, and the throwing of the stones symbolizes those rebukes. [snip]

Perform a second tawaf around the Kaaba. This completes the requirements of the Hajj. The tawaf is known as Tawaful - Widah.
After stoning the devil, many male pilgrims will then shave their head; women may cut off a lock of their hair. This is a symbol of rebirth, signifying that the pilgrim's sins have been cleansed by completion of the Hajj.

Culture Middle East - Islam: Eid and Hajj

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