Eid al-Azha, an annual festival of the Muslims, is celebrated in the last month of the Hijra calendar, that is, Zulu Hajji. Muslims from all over the world gather at Makkah to celebrate Hajj in the month of Zulu Hajji.
Eid al-Azha is celebrated on the same day. In fact, it is like a partial performance of hajj and is a day of Muslim international solidarity. A selected number of Muslims perform hajj by visiting Makkah and the rest of the Muslim community performs Eid al-Azha in every country. Thus, the whole Muslim world is involved in this day of solidarity, some directly and some indirectly.
Eid al-Azha literally means Eid of sacrifice. Muslims sacrifice an animal on this day. This sacrifice is a symbolic sacrifice, but real sacrifice is required of every Muslim, not only for one day but throughout his entire life.
It is very important to know that Hajj and its practices are a symbolic re –enactment of acts performed by the family of Abraham – the father, Abraham, the son, Ishmael, and the mother, Hajira.
The historical background of Eid al-Azha is that the Prophet Abraham had a dream in which he was sacrificing his young son, Ishmael. Abraham, a great believer in God, took his dream literally and wanted to sacrifice his son, who was about ten years old at the time. But, according to tradition, God Almighty sent his angels and asked him to sacrifice an animal instead of his son. The real sacrifice according to God’s planning, was that Abraham had to settle his son along with his mother, near Makkah, which at that time was nothing but a vast desert. This kind of settlement was a great sacrifice on the part of this family.
This unique settlement of this small family in the desert was the beginning of a new phase in history. After some years had elapsed, a caravan passed by and Ishmael married a girl from that caravan. This was the beginning of a new generation called the Ishmaelites.
There is a saying that; “There is a woman at the beginning of all great things.” In this case, the saying proved to be true, for a woman and her son had started not only a new generation but a new era.
This generation was trained in the midst of nature, faced with different kinds of hardships. Within one thousand years a generation had been produced whose members were so strong in character that one historian has rightly said that it was a nation of heroes. All those practices that are performed during the hajj days or during Ed al-Azha, are a symbolic repetition of that great history which was established by Abraham, his son Ishmael and his wife Hajira.
Basically, two practices are performed by Muslims on the day of Eid al-Azha: congregational prayer in the mosque and the sacrificing of an animal. These two practices reflect the basic spirit of Eid al-Azha, which is a combination of two important states of mind – spirituality and dedication. Prayer is an expression of spirituality and sacrifice is an expression of dedication.
Eid al-Azha gives a three-fold message to all the believers. First, that the head of a family must go beyond his immediate interests, that he must try to be a part of human development. Second, the spirit of sacrifice must be inculcated in the younger generation for a greater cause. Third, a woman must be willing to play her role in initiating a new healthy process in history.
All the festivals are related to some history, a history that may serve as a point of reference for healthy human activities. For example, the Deepawali festival is a symbolic reminder of victory of light over darkness. Such is the case of Eid al-Azha, which is a symbolic reminder of a history that occurred four thousand years ago: it demonstrates that the sacrifice of a small group of people can create a new history for all mankind.
Eid al-Azha is celebrated for one day but its impact is required to last the entire year. Eid al-Azha is like a symbolic rehearsal of high values and it is required that these values be translated into practical life all the year round.