A Guide to Islamic Holidays
February 17, 2019
Written by Reem Esseghir
With nearly 2.5 billion Muslims around the world, it is important as members of a diverse society to be aware of the background and significance of the holidays that Muslims celebrate every year. Here’s a quick guide outlining the three main holidays your Muslim neighbors might be celebrating.
Muslims follow a lunar Islamic Calendar called the Hijri Calendar, and the ninth month of this calendar is called Ramadan, or رمضان in Arabic. Though not technically considered a major holiday, Ramadan is incredibly significant for several reasons. During this month, Muslims do not eat or drink from dawn until sunset every day. During this time, Muslims focus on self-reflection, worship, and spiritual improvement. One example of worship that many Muslims strive to do is to complete the reading of the entire holy book, the Quran. Additionally, every night during this month, Muslims come together in their mosques and stand in prayer during Taraweeh, a prayer exclusive to Ramadan. This spiritual improvement is not only inwardly but is also done through outward actions. For example, Muslim communities often come together during this month and focus on raising money, collecting clothes and food, and volunteering their time for those in need.
Though Ramadan may seem incredibly tiring and difficult, the month of worship and devotion ends in Muslims’ first major holiday, Eid-Ul-Fitr. Eid Ul-Fitr, or عيد اافطر in Arabic, means the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast and starts on the first day of the month after Ramadan, Shawwal. During this holiday, Muslims come together and celebrate the end of Ramadan for three days. On the first day, Muslims dress up in exceptionally nice clothes and attend a special prayer in the morning with their families. Additionally, Muslims must offer a specific amount of charity on behalf of each member of their family. They spend the rest of the holiday exchanging gifts, visiting family, and eating delicious foods and sweets.
Eid Ul-Adha is the second major holiday Muslims celebrate annually and occurs on the 10th day of Dhul-Hijjah, which is the last month of the Islamic Calendar. Eid Ul-Adha or عيد الاضحى in Arabic means the Festival of the Sacrifice, because on this day, pilgrims on Hajj, or the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, finish their pilgrimage by sacrificing a sheep, ram, camel, or cow. A majority of Muslims around the world follow suit and also sacrifice an animal this day. The reason an animal is sacrificed is to commemorate the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son for the sake of God, and how after showing his obedience to God, he was given a ram to sacrifice instead of his son. This sacrifice is done after the special morning prayers Muslims make at their mosque, and one-third of the meat is reserved for one’s family, one-third to give for friends, and one-third to give as charity to the poor. The holiday lasts four days, and the rest of it is spent with family and friends, eating festive meals together and exchanging gifts.
As seen in this guide, every Islamic holiday has important religious significance and greatly involves helping others through charity and other means. So, now that you know more about each holiday, next time you notice your Muslim friend celebrating any of the holidays mentioned above, make sure you wish them a happy holiday by saying Eid Mubarak, or Have a Blessed Eid!
*We have corrected the “sunrise” to “dawn” as fasting during Ramadan begins at dawn and not sunrise.
Reem Esseghir is a 2017 Abdelkader Global Leadership Prize winner and active member of the AEP Youth Initiative.