Muslims have two major annual celebrations called Eid, which means ‘recurring happiness’: Eid-ul-Fitr (Eid of Fast-Breaking) and Eid-ul-Adha (Eid of Sacrifice).
Eid-ul-Fitr (Eid of Fast-Breaking):
Eid-ul-Fitr is an Islamic holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Fiṭr means “to break the fast” and therefore symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period. On the day of Eid-ul-Fitr, which is the first day of the month of Shawwal, a typical Muslim family is awake very early. After praying the daily morning (Fajr) prayer, they enjoy a light breakfast, symbolizing the end of Ramadan.
Many Muslims dress in fancy traditional clothes early in the morning and then head to special prayers in congregation held only on this occasion in mosques or in large open areas, stadiums or arenas. The prayer is generally short and is followed by a sermon (Khutba). Worshippers greet and embrace each other in a spirit of peace and love after the congregational prayer. Festivities then follow that involve visiting the homes of relatives and friends.
On Eid ul-Fitr, Muslims celebrate the achievement of enhanced piety. It is a day of forgiveness, moral victory, brotherhood, fellowship, and unity. Muslims celebrate not only the end of fasting, but also thank God for the strength He gave them throughout the month of Ramadan to help them practice self-control. It is a time of giving and sharing.
Eid-ul-Adha (Eid of Sacrifice):
Eid-ul-Adha, which occurs approximately seventy days after Eid-ul-Fitr, commemorates the Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail (Ishmael) for Allah.
Eid ul-Adha celebrations continue for three days, starting on the 10th day of the month of Dhul Hijja of the lunar Islamic calendar. This is the day after the pilgrims in Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia by Muslims worldwide, descend from Mount Arafat. Like Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha begins with a short prayer followed by a sermon (Khutba). Men, women, and children are expected to dress in their finest clothing.
Muslims, who can afford to, sacrifice their best domestic animals (usually sheep, but also camels, cows, and goats) as a symbol of Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) sacrifice. This sacrificial act and the meat are called “Udhiya” or “Qurbani”. A large portion of the meat is given to the poor and hungry so they can all join in the feast. The remainder is cooked for the celebrations in which relatives and friends participate. The spirit of giving and charitable gestures in the Muslim community is heightened during Eid ul-Adha as Muslims ensure that no impoverished person is left without sacrificial food during this period.
In addition to the two Eids stipulated by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, a few other celebrations are recognized in the Muslim community that vary across cultures, as well as across sects of Islam, Sunni and Shia. Muslim holidays follow the lunar calendar, and thus move each year relative to the solar calendar.
Ashura is celebrated on the ninth and tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic Calendar. Ashura is an Arabic word meaning “ten”, and it is a day of optional fasting. This is the day on which God saved Moses and the Israelites from Pharaoh in Egypt as he crossed the Red Sea (the Exodus day). Jews in the city of Madina fasted only one day (on Yom Kippur) so the Prophet Muhammad would fast two. According to Islamic tradition Prophet Muhammad recommended fasting on the 9th and 10th of Muharram.
This is also the day on which Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussain ibn Ali, was martyred by the forces of a corrupt and cruel governor in the Battle of Karbala. For both Sunni and Shia Muslims, 10th of Muharram marks a day of remembrance of Hussain’s martyrdom. For Shia Muslims in particular, this is a day of mourning, expressed in a more dramatic fashion than the Sunnis.
Islamic New Year
The 1st of Muharram is the New Year on the Islamic Calendar. It is not generally celebrated as an official Islamic holiday, although many Muslim communities have devised some kind of New Year ritual celebration.
Mawlid an-Nabi (Birth of the Prophet)
Mawlid an-Nabi (also known as Milad an-Nabi) celebrates Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. It is on the twelfth of Rabi Al-Awwal in the Islamic Calendar. This occasion was not celebrated in the early times of Islam and is therefore unevenly celebrated today, with great and festive celebrations in many Muslim countries (e.g. Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey) and none in others (e.g. Saudi Arabia). Poetry in praise of God and the Prophet are recited with love and devotion. Since the early Muslim community didn’t celebrate the birthday of the Prophet, many scholars consider these festivities as Bid‘ah (innovation). Other scholars justify it as it is an opportunity to bring Muslims together and highlight the message, mission, character, and life of Prophet Muhammad.