This is one of the two main Eids or religious “festivals”; Eid ul Adha translates to the Festival of Sacrifice. It commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Abraham (“Ibrahim”) to commit himself wholly to God. Islam belongs to the Abrahamic family of faiths and the biblical story is an important part of Muslim belief. Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice (kill) his son. Both father and son agreed to this command, seeing it as an act of obeying God. This demonstrated an extraordinary level of faith, and, when Abraham was ready to do it, God instructed him to sacrifice a ram instead. He had passed the test.
The festival coincides with the Hajj, an annual pilgrimage where Muslims travel to the Kaaba (the "Cube"), a square cubed building in the city of Makka which Muslims believe was built by Abraham to worship God. The Kaaba is informally referred to as the “House of God” but that does not mean Muslims believe God lives there, but rather, the phrase refers to a central that draws Muslims to visit, ‘get close’ to God and pray. The city of Makka is also where the Prophet Muhammad was appointed with his mission and in this way, Eid ul Adha brings connects this religious heritage with a strong sense of unity across the faithful to commit one’s life in the service of God.
A key feature of this festival does raise some disconcerting feelings about the treatment of animals, because Muslim households will buy an animal (such as a sheep or cow) and donate most of its meat to the poor. Images of slaughtered animals circulated on the internet can be quite graphic. The true essence of this practice is to raise an animal (or look after it for a while) and treat it lovingly as if a member of the family, and then to share its meat with those less off, giving thanks for God’s provisions. In Britain, most people arrange for this to be done in developing countries, where all the meat is donated. Muslims view the feeding of people less well off in this way as an act of social charity, generosity and connection with their wider human family.
On the morning of Eid ul Adha, Muslims attend a large communal prayer service to give thanks and to pray for all in the world. Meat dishes such as large roasts are customarily eaten, and people wear new clothes.