Hari Raya Haji is a festival that is celebrated across the world in Islamic communities and occurs towards the culmination of the Hajj pilgrimage every year. The festival is known by many names which include Eid-Al-Adha or the ‘festival of sacrifice’ in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East including the UAE and as Bakr-id, the ‘goat festival’ or Eid-e-Qurban in Pakistan and other Asian countries.
The day of the festival is decided according to the Islamic lunar calendar and therefore the date varies every year according to the Gregorian calendar. Typically, the festival occurs 70 days after the holy month of Ramadan or on the 10th day of the month of Dhu Al-Hijjah and the rituals and celebrations may continue for 5 days and 4 nights. The festival also marks the descent of the Hajj pilgrims from Mount Arafat in the holy city of Mecca, which is why it is also known as Hari Raya Haji or the ‘festival of the Hajj pilgrims.’ It is also referred to in some countries as Eid-Al-Kabir or the ‘big festival’ to differentiate it from the other Eid or Islamic festival, Eid-Al-Fitr, which occurs at the end of Ramadan.
It celebrates the supreme test of devotion and sacrifice
According to Islamic traditions, the festival is observed to commemorate the selfless and complete devotion of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) to Allah (God). In obeisance to Allah’s wishes which he sees in a vision or dream, Ibrahim is willing to sacrifice his son, Ismail (Ishmael). However, just before the sacrifice, Allah reveals to Ibrahim that it was a test and a goat is sacrificed instead. As a symbolic gesture recognizing and revering Ibrahim’s unwavering devotion and trust in Allah, Muslims across the world offer a four-legged animal, such as a goat as a sacrifice to God on the occasion of Eid-Al-Adha or Hari Raya Haji.
The sacrificial ritual act is usually performed in a mosque but it may also be performed in other places such as a residence or an institution following a consecration of the place according to Islamic traditions. The sacrificial tradition, known as Qurban, is a voluntary act that Muslim families who can afford to do so are encouraged to observe. The meat from the sacrificial animal is considered ‘halal,’ which means that it is prepared according to the prescribed Islamic tradition and is distributed among friends and also the needy and the poor in the community. The gesture is a reminder to the fortunate to be thankful to Allah for his blessing and to be aware of those who are less fortunate and share their good fortune through charity and compassion. This sacrificial event takes place following the ritual attendance of the special sermon and prayers held at the mosques.
A festival that celebrates cleanliness, brightness and happiness
In Islamic communities across the world, varied cultural influences make its presence felt but the general atmosphere of gaiety and joy is prevalent. It is a public holiday and everyone is expected to perform their ablutions and dress in clean and fresh or new clothes to honour the tradition.
Everyone attends the ritual morning prayers at the mosques, where they gather dressed in new clothes or their finest clothes. Following the prayers, friends and family members greet each other and exchange gifts.
The streets leading up to the mosques are decorated and festooned with bright lamps while public places like parks and exhibition halls host games and other activities for the young and old alike.
In Saudi Arabia, the festival is observed with great reverence and solemnity due to its proximity to the holy city of Mecca where the annual Hajj pilgrimage has just culminated. Some of the significant rituals include the throwing of stones symbolizing Ibrahim’s act of shunning the Devil and his temptations and drinking from the holy water from the Zamzam well.
In many secular societies, the festival is also an opportunity for Muslims to invite friends and acquaintances to their homes to partake in the celebrations and get to know about Islamic traditions and their meaning. During the festival, it is a common sight to see men and boys in white traditional garb greet and embrace each other while young girls in bright dresses and women gather to demonstrate solidarity and communal harmony.
Brightly lit souks, bazaars and markets are set up at public places to enable the people to gather and exchange gifts and also indulge in communal feasts to celebrate this occasion.
On Hari Raya Haji day, all Muslims, rich and poor, take time to observe and reflect on the sublime ethics and practices carried out in their community, remember to share wealth with the less fortunate. They reaffirm their faith in God and express their gratefulness for the blessings that have been showered upon them.