Holy Days and Celebrations

There are two main festivals (‘Id, sing.) in the Islamic calendar. The first comes after the yearly performance of hajj. It is called ‘Id-ul-Adha (the festival of Sacrifice; some Muslims sacrifice an animal which is then distributed amongst family, friends, neighbours and the needy). The second is to mark the end of the month of the month of Ramadan and hence the end of fasting. It is called ‘Id-ul-Fitr (the festival of the breaking of the fast). The day of Friday (yawm al-Jumu’ah) is also a festival but on a smaller scale. Muslims all over the world also commemorate the birth of the Prophet (Mawlid an-nabi). Shi’ah Muslims have many more festivals as they celebrate the birth of each of the Imams and other events such as Ghadir Khumm.

These two mains festivals are celebrated over three days and people from different cultures have different practices. Festivals are celebrated with the family and with the community. On ‘id, people wear their best or new clothes; go to mosque to pray and wish each other a blessed ‘id (‘id mubarak); and in some communities, breakfast is served at the mosque for ‘Id-ul-Fitr. Families exchange gifts (children traditionally are given money), have lots of sweets, visit family and friends (to whom gifts or sweets may be taken), visit the graveyard and give charity (sadaqah) to the poor and the needy. The birth of the Prophet and the Imams is celebrated on the night before the day of their birth. There is usually a lecture at the mosque followed by the recitation of poetry (qasadah) and other acts of worship.

The importance of these festivals is in their religious and spiritual significance. ‘Id-ul-Adha goes back to the story of the Prophet Abraham and the command of God to sacrifice his son. This ‘id symbolises one’s total submission to the will of God and one’s readiness to give or sacrifice anything if God wished him to just like the prophet Abraham. ‘Id al-Fitr is a time for Muslims to thank God for the opportunity they were given to fast another Ramadan and to ask God for the same opportunity again. During this month, it is recommended to pray for forgiveness and hence one hopes at the end of Ramadan that his prayers have been answered. Ramadan is sometimes also called the minor fast as it is a time in which Muslims would have been working on their spirituality and their closeness with God through discipline, self-control and more awareness but which they should carry on for the rest of the year which is the major fast (in this sense, fast no longer refers to the physical aspect of it only). Festivals are also an occasion for people to meet each other again. Every person is more careful about their duties and obligations and the spirit of ‘id offers an opportunity to make amends and encourages reconciliation. These gatherings strengthen communities by bringing families and friends together as they worship God as a unit.

On the two ‘ids, Muslims perform an ablution (ghusl) in the morning and then go to the mosque for a special ‘id prayer performed in congregation and which is followed by a sermon. Muslims are recommended to spend some time in worship and to read certain supplications. Giving sadaqah is highly recommended on the day of ‘id. On the day of ‘Id al-Fitr, each household must pay a fixed amount of money called fitrah or zakat-ul-Fitr which is then distributed to the poor.

As the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, Islamic festivals do not always occur on the same days. An example of this would be the ‘Id-ul-Fitr may take place on either the 29th or the 30th of the month of Ramadan depending on the sighting of the moon.

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