By Ally Dees
Last week, millions of Muslims worldwide celebrated Eid al-Adha. In the United States, Islam is the third largest religion, after Christianity and Judaism. A 2017 study estimated that 3.45 million Muslims are living in the United States, about 1.1 percent of the total U.S. population. In a recent Gallup poll, American Muslims come from various backgrounds and are one of the most racially diverse religious groups in the United States. According to a 2017 study done by the Institute for Social Policy, “American Muslims are the only faith community surveyed with no majority race, with 26 percent white, 18 percent Asian, 18 percent Arab, 9 percent black, 7 percent mixed race, and 5 percent Hispanic”.
Eid al-Adha, Arabic for Festival of the Sacrifice, is the latter of the two official holidays celebrated within Islam (the other being Eid al-Fitr). “Al-Adha” refers to the sacrifice made by the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) when he willingly offered to sacrifice his son Ismail (Ishmael) as an act of obedience to God’s command,” shares Omid Safi, professor of Islamic studies at Duke University. (The Jewish and Christian religions believe that according to Genesis 22:2, Abraham took his son Isaac, not Ishmael to sacrifice.) Before Ibrahim could sacrifice his son, however, God provided a lamb to sacrifice instead.
The Eid al-Adha holiday also marks the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, in which thousands of Muslims travel to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to worship in the Ka’bah, the most sacred site in Islam. According to Mohammad Hassan Khalil, a professor of religious studies and director of the Muslim studies program at Michigan State University, Eid al-Adha falls on the tenth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar. It is different from another major Muslim holiday, Eid al-Fitr, which was recently celebrated in May to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Eid is a three-day celebration in Muslim-majority countries. In the United States, most people observe just one day.
During Eid al-Adha, there is usually a big communal religious ceremony or service, which includes a prayer and a sermon. Muslims across the globe offer namaz (prayers) at a mosque just before the sun enters the zuhr time, which is the mid-day prayer time. Eid prayers must be offered in congregation. In some communities, women are not allowed to participate in the religious ceremonies. While some communities allow women to participate in namaz, the women’s integration in the namaz service varies from community to community. The salat (prayer) is then followed by the khutbah, or sermon, by the Imam (leader of prayers).
On Eid al-Adha, Muslims sacrifice an animal, generally a goat or a lamb, to prove their devotion and love for Allah. As per the tradition, the prepared meat is divided into three parts. One part is for family, friends, and neighbors, the second part is distributed among the poor and needy, and the third part is reserved for immediate family. The sacrifice is essentially about giving back to society and is symbolic of one’s devotion to Allah. During Eid al-Adha, the distributing meat amongst the people and chanting the takbir out loud before the Eid prayers on the first day and after prayers throughout the four days of Eid, are considered essential parts of this important Islamic festival.
At the conclusion of the prayers and sermon, everyone embraces and exchanges greetings (Eid Mubarak), give gifts, and visit one another. For Eid al-Adha, Muslims wear their new or best clothes. Women cook special sweets, including ma’amoul and samosas. They gather with family and friends to share in the “Festival of the Sacrifice”. Many Muslims also take this opportunity to invite their friends, neighbors, coworkers, and classmates to their Eid festivities to help others better understand Muslim traditions and customs.
Eid al-Adha is as important to our Muslim colleagues as other religious holidays are to their counterparts. Eid is a time of charitable giving to help those in need. Muslims will decorate their homes, celebrate, spend time with family and friends, and give gifts and well-wishes. Comparisons can be drawn with several religious and cultural festivals around the world.
However, there is probably no easier parallel to draw than that with Christmas. Both are celebrated by billions of people around the world and draw energy from religious meaning. In most Muslim countries, the entire three-day period is an official government and school holiday.
At the workplace, Eid al-Adha is an opportunity for staff engagement and improving the understanding of the Muslim festival. Not only is it a festivity to mark and celebrate the Muslim holiday of sacrifice, but also a period to give thanks, to reflect and recognize those that are less fortunate. For our Muslim coworkers, being able to bring the Eid al-Adha celebrations to work and share with fellow colleagues builds an environment that fosters positive morale.