Eid Al-Adha: Feast of Sacrifice

About Eritrea - History & Culture

Yesterday, Muslim families across Eritrea came together to pray, feast, and celebrate Eid Al- Adha with loved ones. The first Eid, Eid al-Fitr, which occurred in June, is a celebration after Ramadan, the month of fasting. Eid Al-Adha, also known as the “Feast of Sacrifice”, is the second of two holidays celebrated by Muslims each year. The second holiday is considered holier of the two, hence, its nickname “Big Eid”.

When I was a kid, I used to love Ramadan of all other similar fasting seasons that belong to other religions, for during the month of Ramadan our daily supply of dates, pastry and other sweet meats was assured.

“Saleh, please don’t forget to bring sambusa (roll filled with ground meat or lentils) and mekhlil (fried sugared dough) tomorrow.”

Saleh is a classmate and we Christian friends thought it was our inalienable right that he fed us with sambusa every day. This resulted in creating strong bonds of unity between the followers of the two religions. For a while, we forgot our backgrounds and prejudices altogether.

Like Eid al-Fitr, the date of Eid al-Adha depends on the Islamic lunar calendar and the sighting of the crescent moon, signaling the changing month. This means that in comparison to the Gregorian equivalent, the dates vary from year to year, drifting approximately 11 days earlier annually. Eid al- Adha falls on the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and most sacred month of the Islamic year. It is also when Hajj, a pilgrimage which all able-bodied Muslims are required to complete once in their lives, takes place. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with Shahadah (belief in the oneness of God and acceptance of Muhammad as prophet), Salat (prayer), Zakat (charity) and Sawm (fasting). Hajj is intended to be an empowering event in a Muslim’s life, with spiritual merit and the opportunity of self-renewal.

When Eid begins, the faithful celebrate with the slaughtering of an animal in honour of prophet Ibrahim.

In Islamic scripture, Ibrahim obeyed God’s order to sacrifice his own son. But before he could do so, God provided a male goat to sacrifice instead, sparing his son. It is in celebration of Ibrahim’s love for God and his ultimate act of devotion, that Muslim around the world honour this by sacrificing an animal on Eid Al-Adha.

Although traditions tend to differ from culture to culture across different countries, in Eritrea Eid is celebrated in a similar fashion. In the morning, Muslims read “Salat al-Eid” gathered in congregation outside the Mosque, a special prayer offered to honour the festival. This is then followed by the sacrifice.

During the day the air is filled with all kinds of sweet fragrances coming from Oriental pastries displayed in the streets. Frankly speaking for us Christians, Eid is a feast par excellence. A season of joy and fellowship of the followers of all religions surpassing many holidays, for during the day, Moslems, Christians, Hindus, and Jews in Eritrea eat and drink together in a spirit of unity untainted by religious or racial bias.

Growing up, every Eid al-Adha I had friends who invited me to their houses. And I always anticipated the joy and fellowship that the feast provided for one and all. It is the day of joy when people get together. It is a day of family gatherings, visiting relatives and old friends.

But all this time I never learned to use the correct words meeting with my hosts. I went there to eat and thought more with my stomach than with my brain. Finally did I learn the words. They went like this: Kulu Amm Wo Antum Bikheir or even Eid Mebruk. These were the magic words that opened the cornucopia of fruits, dates, peanuts, biscuits, pantone, aba’ke, coffee with ginger, caramels, sweetmeats, popcorn, you name it you have it.

Three years ago…I was invited for the feast of Eid al-Adha by Ahmed. On my way to his house I met people going to mosques wearing their brand new Jelebias and some carrying praying mats. I saw a proud father with his sons who had already learned to perform their salat preceded by ablution. His sons were probably rewarded with ice-cream on their way back home.

Ahmed was waiting outside his house; he was in his best Eid attire and greeted me with a beaming face. He led me to his house. His mother at the door who seemed busy preparing a banquet, I was made to sit and was given aba’ke. The room was filled with a strong aroma from the burning Ud (sandalwood). Gradually, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends arrived one by one. When the father finally arrived, the banquet started which comprised chicken stew, mutton, rice, followed by all things pastry.

Outside, by the patio, Ahmed’s uncle took out a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and started to smoke with great relish.

Phone calls once in a while broke the lively conversations.

“Who was that?”
“That was Mohammed, a relative from Jeddah conveying his Eid al- Adha greetings.”

Eid al-Adha has had other names outside the Muslim world. The name is often simply translated into the local language, such as English Feast of the Sacrifice, German Opferfest, and Dutch Offerfeest. In Spanish it is known as Fiesta del Cordero or Fiesta del Borrego (both meaning “festival of the lamb”). It is also known as Eid Al-Baqarah in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

Eid Mebruk everyone!