Makkah at the time of the hajj

We gave him news of a gentle son. And when [Ishma’il] reached the age when he could work with him his father said to him: “My son, I dreamt that I was sacrificing you. Tell me what you think.”

He replied: “Father, do as you are bidden. Allah willing, you shall find me faithful.” And when they had both surrendered themselves to Allah’s will, and Ibrahim had laid down his son prostrate upon his face, We called out to him saying: “Ibrahim, you have fulfilled your vision.” Thus did we reward the righteous. That was indeed a bitter test. We ransomed his son with a noble sacrifice and bestowed on him the praise of later generations. “Peace be on Ibrahim!” (Qu’ran 37:101-109)

Thus does the Qu’ran tell the story of Ibrahim’s willingness to obey Allah and sacrifice his son—in the Muslim version, Ishma’il rather than Ishak (Isaac). Muslims remember this on Eid-ul-Adha, the chief observance of which is the sacrifice of an animal in commemoration of the lamb sent by Allah to take the place of Ishma’il. The community demonstrates charity (zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam) by the distribution of one-third of the meat to the poor, the rest to be shared by family and friends.

The festival is observed at the end of the hajj or yearly pilgrimage to Mekka. However it is celebrated by all Muslims, not only those performing the hajj. The village of Mina, a few miles from Mekka, is the site of three pillars which are stoned in a symbolic rejection of the devil, one of the rituals of the hajj. This village also plays host to scores of butchers who arrange for the halal slaughter of the sacrificial animals on the pilgrims’ behalf. Each Muslim, as they celebrate the festival of sacrifice, remind themselves of their own submission to Allah, and their own willingness to sacrifice.

Eid-ul-Adha starts with a special holiday prayer, performed by the congregation in the masjid (mosque) or other suitable place. Fasting is prohibited during the four days of the observance: it is a time of celebration, of visiting family and friends and of thanking Allah.