Feasts, Festivities, and Special Occasions in Islam

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Islam has enacted two festivals which have special timings, rituals and ceremonies. These special occasions have effective benefits for social and individual well-being.

Islam, the religion of fitrah (nature), allows its followers to experience the pleasures, joy, and gaiety of festivals and celebrations. Maintaining Islam’s unique identity, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) declared two festivals, namely the Feast of Fast-breaking (Eid-ul-Fitr) and the Feast of Sacrifice (Eid-ul-Adha). In addition to these two main festivals, other social festivities such as the festivity of the Newly Born (Aqeeqah) and the festivity of the Wedding (Waleemah) are also encouraged.

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Celebration of special occasions such as harvest, and the literacy initiation (Bismillah) of Muslim children, etc. have also been traditionally accepted in Islamic culture.

While Islam allows feasts, festivities, and the celebration of special occasions, it gives guidelines on how best to celebrate, keeping the unity of Allah (Tawheed) as a dominant feature, and expecting a worshipful attitude from the participants of the celebration. The celebration of the two festivals – Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha – starts with Salat-ul-Eid which is wajib (an essential duty) for every sane, able, and adult Muslim. Salat-ul-Eid is the (formal worship) prayer offered in congregation and is followed by a sermon (khutba). Every man, woman, and child is recommended to go to the place of congregation and participate in this joyous occasion.

Another common thread that runs through Islamic feasts, festivities, and celebrations is the fostering and strengthening of social relations among the members of the community. These celebrations require sharing the joy in tangible terms, by sharing food and gifts; and in intangible terms, by fostering brotherhood and friendship with members belonging to all sections of the society. This is the part of the Islamic culture that dominates the Muslim societies all over the world regardless of their race, colour, or nationality.

I. Feasts
All over the world Muslims celebrate their festivals on the same day. Although Muslims are found among many different races, colours, and nationalities, they all belong to one Muslim ummah. The celebration of these festivals, on the same day by all the Muslims all over the world glorifying and thanking One Allah, exhibits Muslim brotherhood and the solidarity of one Muslim ummah.

(1) Eid-ul-Fitr (The Feast of Fast-Breaking)
Eid-ul-Fitr is celebrated during the first three days of the month of Shawwal. This feast marks the completion of the month of fasting (Ramadan). Eid-ul-Fitr is the manifestation of real joy and thankfulness for the opportunities which Allah has given Muslims to fulfil their obligation of fasting and perform other good deeds during the month of Ramadan.

The joy and gratitude are expressed collectively by the community of Muslims by remembering, praising, and glorifying Allah in the form of congregational prayer (Salat-ul-Eid).

Every adult Muslim possessing an amount of food in excess of his and his family’s need for a day (24 hours) is mandated to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr on behalf of himself and all his dependant(s). Zakat- ul-Fitr or Fitra is food for one full meal per person or cash equivalent to the cost of

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one full meal, given directly to the needy and the poor in the community before Salat-ul-Eid.

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Remember! Zakat-ul-Fitr is essential (wajib) for every Muslim, man, or woman; free, or in servitude; adult, or child.” (Tirmidhi)

The Zakat-ul-Fitr must be paid before Salat-ul-Eid in order to be accepted by Allah as Zakat (It is one of the five obligatory duties of Islam and is commonly denoted as ‘poor due’). If one pays it after the Salat-ul-Eid, it is just considered charity (Sadaqa). The purpose of payment of the Zakat-ul-Fitr before Salat-ul-Eid is to make sure that the poor and needy recipients of Zakat-ul-Fitr should be able to enjoy the happiness of the festival.

The fasting of the month of Ramadan is not accepted by Allah until a person pays Zakat-ul-Fitr. Ibn Abbas (R) reported that the Prophet Muhammad (S) made Zakat-ul-Fitr obligatory for the purpose of purifying our fasting from vain talk and shameful mistakes, and to make arrangements for food and clothing (for the festival of Eid) for the poor and needy of the community.

It is virtuous and thoughtful to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr a few days earlier so that the recipients can make the necessary arrangements for food and clothing ahead of the festival, and enjoy the event with other members of the community.

The categories of people who are eligible to receive Zakat-ul-Fitr are the same as those who are eligible to receive the regular Zakat. The following categories of people are eligible to receive Zakat as well as Zakat-ul-Fitr:

“The Prescribed Purifying Alms (the Zakah) are meant only for the poor, and the destitute (albeit, out of self-respect, they do not give the impression that they are in need), and those in charge of collecting (and administering) them, and those whose hearts are to be won over (for support of Allah’s cause, including those whose hostility is to be prevented), and to free those in bondage (slavery and captivity), and to help those over-burdened with debt, and in Allah’s cause (to exalt Allah’s word, to provide for the warriors and students, and to help the pilgrims), and for the wayfarer (in need of help). This is an ordinance from Allah. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” (Tawbah, 9:60)

(2) Eid-ul-Adha (the Feast of Sacrifice)
Eid-ul-Adha is celebrated on the tenth day of the month of Dhul-Hijjah every year. Muslims who can afford it, congregate in Mecca, Arabia, for the performance of pilgrimage (Hajj) in this month. The sacrifice of an animal on the tenth day of Dhul-Hijjah marks the completion of the pilgrimage. Muslims who are not on pilgrimage are encouraged to fast the first nine days of Dhul-Hijjah, or at least to fast on the ninth day (the day of Arafat) the day before the Feast of Sacrifice. On the day of Eid, Muslims collectively express their gratitude by remembering, praising, and glorifying Allah in the form of a congregational prayer (Salat-ul-Eid).

(A) Historical Significance
Eid-ul-Adha is celebrated in commemoration of the great sacrifice of the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him). He offered the life of his (then) only son Ismail (peace be upon him) at the command of Allah.

“(At just that moment,) We called out to him: “O Abraham! “You have already fulfilled the dream (which tested your loyal obedience to the command; so you no longer have to offer your son in sacrifice.) Thus do We reward those devoted to doing good as if seeing Allah.” Behold, all this was indeed a trial, clear. And We ransomed him with a sacrifice tremendous in worth. And We left for him among later-comers (until the end of time this greeting and remembrance of him and his Message): “Peace be upon Abraham.” (Saffat, 37:104-109)

(B) The Obligation of Sacrificing an Animal
In memory of the spirit of sacrifice of the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) and the Prophet Ismail (peace be upon him), the sacrifice of an animal on the day of Eid-ul-Adha is essential (wajib). All of the free, adult Muslims who can afford it (possessors of the Nisab – the prescribed maximum exemption limit of wealth/or possessions as determined by Shari’ah. a specified Nisab for each type of wealth or possession), and who are not travelling, are required to sacrifice an animal, symbolizing their voluntary submission to Allah’s commands.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “He who can afford (the sacrifice), but does not offer it, should not come near our place of worship.” (Hadith)
The sacrifice of an animal is essential (wajib) and can in no way be substituted by charity in the form of cash or kind. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “On the day of sacrifice no one does a deed more pleasing to Allah than the shedding of blood; for verily the animal sacrificed will come on the day of Resurrection with its horns, its hair, and its hoofs, and will make the scales of his action heavy, and verily its blood reaches acceptance of Allah before it falls upon the ground: therefore be joyful in it.” (Tirmidhi & Ibn Majah)
To express the idea of sacrifice different words are used in the Qur’an, such as:

(1) Dhabh: (Al-Qur’an 2:67; 2:49; 5:3 and 37:107) Dhabh is an Arabic word meaning ‘slaughter’.
(2) Nahr: (Al-Qur’an 108:2). Nahr is an Arabic word meaning ‘to injure the jugular vein’. Since Muslims sacrifice an animal on Eid-ul-Adha, this day is also called ‘Yaum-un Nahr’.
(3) Hady: (Al-Qur’an 2:196; 5:2, and 5:97). Hady is a Qur’anic term referring to the offering of an animal for sacrifice sent to Mecca when the pilgrim himself is not able to reach there on time.
(4) Qurban: (Al-Qur’an 3:181, and 5:32). Muslims are encouraged to sacrifice the prescribed animals on this day to get closer to Allah (SWT). For that reason, this festival is also referred to as Eid-i-Qurban (the Festival of Approaching).
Sacrifice is a symbol of the voluntary submission of the sacrificer to the will of the Almighty. It is an external symbol of the readiness of the sacrificer to lay down his own life if needed and to sacrifice all his interests and desires in the cause of Allah.

(C) The Sacrificial Animal
The sacrifice of an adult (Musinnah) animal from any of the following three species is offered:
Cow (buffalo, heifer, steer, bull, etc.)
Ram (sheep, lamb, goat, etc.)
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Sacrifice only an adult animal, unless it is difficult for you, in which case sacrifice a ram (of less than a year, but more than six month’s age).” (Muslim)

Since ’adult’ is a relative term, Islamic Shari’ah recommends the following minimum ages of different animals for sacrifice:
Camel 5 years of age
Cow (buffalo, heifer, steer, bull, etc.) 2 years of age
Ram (sheep, lamb, goat, etc.) 1 year of age

As the hadith describes, if it is difficult to get animals with the above specifications, a ram of less than one year but more than six months of age can be sacrificed.
Islamic Shari’ah also established the sacrifice of a goat for one person. The sacrifice of a cow or a camel can be shared equally by seven or fewer than seven persons.
The sacrificial animal must be unblemished. Animals that are blind; lame; have a great part of their tail or ear cut off; are very lean to the extent that they have no marrow in their bones; animals that are born without ears and the like, are not lawful to be sacrificed.

(D) The Day and Time of Sacrifice
Normally the sacrifice of the animal is offered in the morning (Udhiyah) on the day of Eid-ul-Adha, after the Eid prayer.
Narrated by Jundub bin Sufyan al-Bajali: “Once during the lifetime of Allah’s Apostle (SWT), we offered some animals as sacrifices. Some people slaughtered their sacrifices before the (Eid) prayer, so when the Prophet (PBUH) finished his prayer, he saw that they slaughtered their sacrifices before the prayer. He said, “Whoever has slaughtered (his sacrifice) before the prayer, should slaughter (another sacrifice) in lieu of it, and whoever has not yet slaughtered it till we have prayed, should slaughter (it) by mentioning Allah’s name.'” (Sahih Bukhari)
Sacrifice is also permitted on the following two (or three days) i.e., on 11th, 12th, (or 13th) of Dhul Hijja.

(E) Slaughtering the Animal
It is preferable that a Muslim slaughter the animal with his own hands. If, for any valid reason, he cannot slaughter, it is desirable that he should at least be present at the operation of slaughtering while someone else slaughters on his behalf.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of animals are sacrificed in Mecca, Arabia, as the final rite of Hajj (pilgrimage). The Hajj Research Center, Jeddah, Arabia, lately has been making arrangements to store and distribute the meat of these sacrificial animals. The pilgrims are encouraged to cooperate with the authorities who arrange to sacrifice the animals on their behalf, and save millions of pounds of edible meat from wastage.

(F) Du’a (Supplication) of Sacrifice
The sacrificial animal is laid upon the ground facing the Ka’ba, and the following prayer is recited:
“I have diverted my attention from all the material substance and have devoted to the Being Who created the Heavens and the earth. Now I do not have my concern with the non- believers. No doubt my prayer, my sacrifice, my life, and my death – all are for one Allah Who is the Preserver of all the worlds, Who does not have any as His partner. I have been ordained of this alone and so I abide by Him. I am faithful to Allah alone.”
And then saying:
“In the name of Allah, Allah is the Greatest.”
The animal is then cut, severing the throat, windpipe and the jugular veins in the neck without cutting the spinal cord, and the following prayer is recited: “O Allah! Accept this sacrifice from me the way You had accepted from Your Prophet Muhammad and friend Prophet Ibrahim.”

(G) Distribution of Sacrificial Meat
It is lawful for a Muslim to eat the meat of a sacrificed animal himself, to store it, or to give it to whomever he wishes, poor or rich. However, it is a common practice that the meat is divided into three parts; one part is retained for consumption by one’s own family; the second part is given to relatives, friends, and neighbours, and the third part is distributed among the poor and needy. This practice builds up a feeling of concern and a sense of sharing among friends, relatives, neighbours, and the needy. The author recommends that Muslims invite their non-Muslim friends and neighbours and share with them the bounties of Allah, thus fostering social cohesion in pluralistic societies.

(H) Institution of Eid-ul-Adha
In the institution of Hajj, Ihram (humble garb) symbolizes equality and readiness, Talbiya (repeated invocation to Allah) glorifies One God, Saee (the brisk walk between Safa and Marwa) symbolizes endeavour, camping at Arafat, Muzdalifa and Mina introduces (Taaruf) pilgrims to each other, Nahr (sacrifice of animal) symbolizes the concept of self-sacrifice, and Tawaaf (circumambulation of Ka’aba) draws the heart to the centre of Allah’s religion — Islam.

Through the institution of Eid-ul-Adha and Hajj, Islam serves multiple purposes. Whereas the spiritual benefits of this institution cannot be denied; unfortunately its other aspects have not been utilized properly by the Muslim ummah.
Three-fourths of the world’s population is malnourished.

This malnourishment may be due to insufficient food intake or excessive food intake. Insufficient food intake results in undernourishment and starvation. Seventy per cent of the world’s population lives in more than a hundred developing countries where hunger and malnutrition are rampant. When people starve anywhere today, it is not because there are more people on the earth than can be fed. The problem, obviously, is not one of production potential; it is one of distribution.

Islam has institutionalized the annual sacrifice of animals by every mature Muslim all over the world. Islam has also encouraged the distribution of sacrificial meat among the poor and needy, as well as among relatives, friends, and neighbours.

With modern technology, this meat can be preserved on large scale without wastage, and distributed among the needy on a local as well as an international level. The hide, skin, bones, wool, etc. of these animals collectively can generate enough revenue to run the distribution centres and establish service institutions, such as clinics, hospitals, and schools.

Every year between two and two and a half million Muslims perform Hajj. Sacrifice of an animal being an essential rite of the pilgrimage, hundreds of thousands of animals are Islamically slaughtered. If the meat of these animals is properly stored and distributed, it can feed at least 300,000 starving people year round. This meat can supply the daily protein requirements to one million malnourished children every year, ensuring their full brain development. The hide, wool, bone, liver, etc. can be efficiently utilized to generate enough revenue for the execution and management of the entire operation. This activity would be a meaningful Muslim contribution to the needy world, extending the benefits of Islam to humanity at large.
Since hundreds of thousands of animals are needed for sacrificial purposes every year, Muslims should raise the livestock themselves. Millions of animals are imported from Australia, New Zealand, the European countries, and the Americas for sacrifice during Hajj. This is an ongoing industry. Muslims should take the livestock industry into their own hands. This would not only be a good business but also a service, as it would lead to the self-sufficiency of the Muslim ummah.