The Changing Faces of Eid Al-Adha

or the ‘Feast of Sacrifice’ is one of Islam’s most significant events of the whole year. The exact date of the feast changes every year according to the lunar calendar and every year the accompanying events, what is referred to as the greater Eid, vary from country to country.

One big change has been a more active commercial sector during the feast. Businesses have become more involved as they look to cash in on traditional rituals as well as emerging ones.

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Traditionally, Eid Al-Adha begins with prayers. The feast commemorates the Koranic tale of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son in obedience to God’s command. The sacrifice is interrupted at the last moment when God stays Abraham’s hand and offers him an animal for the sacrifice, sparring Abraham’s son. This is why the sacrifice of a goat or sheep plays a central role in the feast.

In Egypt, however, there is a market for a much larger sacrifice—a camel. Wealthy patrons travel to the market in Birqash, a city northwest of Cairo, to bid on camels for the Festival of Sacrifice. The camels range in price from 15,000 to 40,000 Egyptian pounds ($837 – $2,232). After the sacrifice is made, some Muslims prefer to divide the camel’s meat into three portions, following traditional dictates—keeping one portion for themselves, giving one to family and friends, and donating the third to the poor. 

In Jerusalem, some organizations specifically focus their charity efforts on children during the feast. “Each Eid we give presents,” Abeer Jader, an administrator at Salametcom, an organization that helps Palestinian children in hospitals, told The Media Line.

Jader explained that presents often include backpacks, toys and other items the organization receives through donations.

Salametcom works to find resources for hospitalized Palestinian children who need help with language barriers, finances, permits for families to visit their children or engaging in fun activities for extended hospital stays. While the organization operates all year long, Jader laments that the charity is most visible around big holidays. 

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“Twice a year, for the both Eid Al-Adha and the greater Eid, the organization makes the children happy, but for the rest of the year people unfortunately overlook them,” he said.

Other organizations like the Jerusalem Museum for Islamic Art hold special art workshops for children and the rest of the community during the feast. Eman Alyan, an office manager at the museum, told The Media Line that the museum will offer free admission for children on Thursday of this week with some tours being offered in Arabic. 

In Famboun, Cameroon, there is a strong sense of local history during the celebration of the greater Eid. The traditional king of the Bamoun tribe leads the Eid festivities, called Tabaski in West Africa, because his ancestry is credited for the tribe’s conversion to Islam. After the king says prayers—sometimes conducted in front of thousands of worshipers—spectators are then treated to a traditional horse race.

The growing commercialization surrounding the festival can be seen across the Arab world. For example, Dubai’s Department of Tourism advertises specific Eid al-Adha outlet sales and parties offering a “best Eid outfit” contest for kids. DubaiICE, an attraction at a ladies-only beach, boasts a floating barge with, among other things, “snow-themed activities” and an igloo spa.

Some hotels, however, have incorporated traditional practices in the services they offer to guest.

Hotels in Riyadh offer more Saudi Arabian food than their usual international fare. Local Executive Sous Chef Nicola Rossi told The Media Line that ouzi, a rice-based dish usually served with slow-cooked lamb, is particularly popular around the greater Eid.

Amanda Williams, the associate director of Public Relations at the Ritz Carlton in Bahrain, told The Media Line that the hotel is holding a special event for children. “Children at the hotel will be invited to make grass baskets and release them on the water, according to traditional practices,” Williams said.

But traditions surrounding the feast are changing in subtler ways.

Maamoul, a cookie served on tables over the holiday throughout the Middle East, originally used to be a date-filled pastry encased in buttery dome. Over the years, and with various Islamic cultures making the cookie, diverse types of fillings are now the norm.

It all means that from Eid to Eid, in kitchens and bakeries through the Muslim world, feasting traditions are forever changing in minute increments.  

(Jinitzail Hernandez is a Student Intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)