What Is Eid al-Adha?

What is Eid al-Adha and what's the difference between Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr? Learn the story behind the Islamic holiday and some of the traditions that commemorate the holiday year after year.

I often get asked what the difference is between Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, and I always find a lot of joy in relaying the story of the holidays connected to my religious practice. Eid al-Adha is the second holiday for Muslims after Eid al-Fitr (which occurs at the end of Ramadan).

What Is Eid al-Adha?

In Arabic, Eid literally translates to festival, holiday or feast, and “Adha” translates to sacrifice, making this holiday the festival of the sacrifice. The story behind the sacrifice involves Prophet Ibrahim being told by God (or Allah as referred to by Muslims) that he must sacrifice his son Ismail through visions he received in his dreams. In Islam, a Prophet’s dreams are highly regarded and often contain messages from Allah, which was the case for Ibrahim. To show his commitment to Allah, Ibrahim prepared himself to make the sacrifice of his son, which his son encouraged him to do as well. In the process of preparing for the sacrifice, Satan (or Shaytaan in Arabic) attempted to distract Ibrahim from carrying out the sacrifice, and Ibrahim was able to fight Shaytaan away by throwing pebbles. (To honor this act, Muslims throw stones at the symbolic pillars during Hajj).

Allah saw that Ibrahim was prepared to make the sacrifice of his son, and honored both father and son by having a lamb sent from heaven to be sacrificed instead of Ismail. The holiday honors both Ibrahim’s commitment to Allah, as well as the survival of Ismail.

How I Celebrate Eid al-Adha

Muslims around the world make animal sacrifices to commemorate and honor the story of commitment and faith. Truthfully, I’ve celebrated Eid al-Adha differently over the years. As a kid, we would get gifts from our parents and eat meals together, but we don’t have a lot of extended family in the States, so our celebrations were always smaller and quieter. I never really understood the importance of the holiday until I became an adult.

Today, I typically fast the day before Eid al-Adha and break my fast at sundown, which is when the celebration begins. As an adult, I have gathered with my community at my local mosque and met up with friends and family to share meals and donate food or money to families in need. This is how I’ve come to celebrate this holiday, but what I find most beautiful about Islam, is how ever evolving my relationship is to the religion and how different my practice looks with each year that passes.

This year, I plan to fast for the days leading up to the celebration, and celebrate Eid al-Adha with my husband by purchasing halal meat in a large amount and cooking for others (Inshallah, as we like to say, which means if Allah wills it).

How Eid al-Adha Is Celebrated Around the World

what is eid al ahda NABLUS, WEST BANK - FEBRUARY 12: Palestinians gather for a meal on the second day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or feast of sacrifice, February 12, 2003 in the West Bank city of Nablus. Once the economic capital of the West Bank, Palestinians living in Nablus no longer enjoy the prosperity for which they were once known. Instead, many are starving in surrounding villages because of the checkpoints while teachers and students are unable to go to school and many with relatively simple health problems go untreated. (Photo by Ami Vitale/Getty Images)Ami Vitale/Getty Images

Out of curiosity, I asked my mom what her experience was like growing up, and was surprised to learn that she celebrated the holiday in a completely different way with her family in Egypt. She grew up around lots of family in a small village, and they took great pleasure in the celebration of this holiday. They would either sacrifice an animal themselves from their own livestock, or go to a butcher who would sacrifice an animal in a halal way.

In Arabic, halal means permissible or acceptable by Allah, which applies to various aspects of Islamic life. In this instance, halal meat refers to an animal that has been killed while alive and healthy, and killed in a particular way to limit its suffering. A shahada (dedicational prayer) is also read during the killing to honor Allah.

Then, after my mom and her family had the meat, they’d separate it into bags for distribution and give the meat away to families in their neighborhood. At this point in the story, my mom said, “It always feels better to give than to receive, in my opinion.”

I think that sentiment really stuck with me as a tradition for the family to share not only with each other, but with their communities. The role of community is very important in Islamic tradition, and we make an effort to look out for one another with mutual aid and support. To hear that my mom’s favorite part of this holiday involved giving food away to others—something that Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) would do regularly—didn’t surprise me at all.

What Kind of Food Is Traditional for Eid al-Adha?

Nowadays, with different health and dietary restrictions, not everyone celebrates with food in the same way. When my mom was growing up, meat was a customary part of the meal—whether minced and added to fattah (sort of like Middle Eastern nachos), or served in biryani, maqluba (a dish made up of rice, veggies and meat, served upside down) or stews. Today, you might expect to see lots of roasted vegetables, chickpeas, salads, stuffed grape leaves (or warak enab), galettes or pretty much anything that feels appealing to the palette.

The sweets are also unbelievable, from baklava to kunefa (or knafeh as some like to say). I can’t speak for anyone else, but I always make it a point to try something I’ve never had before during Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr.

And because there are Muslims in every part of the world, it makes the foods we cook and share that much more diverse.