Eid al-Adha

October 5-6 (+/- 1), 2014

The Muslim prophet Ibrahim (Abraham in Judeo-Christian tradition) is one of the most remarkable figures in religious history. He is the father of three great religions, the first to believe in one God, and his tales are recounted by all three faiths.

Eid al-Adha, the holiest feast of the Muslim calendar, marks the end of the annual pilgrimage (Hajj.) Eid Al-Adha begins on the tenth day of Dhu’l-Hijja and lasts four days.

It commemorates an event roughly three thousand years ago, when the prophet Ibrahim took his son Ishmael/Ismail to be sacrificed at the command of the Lord. But before Ibrahim could go through with the act God gave Ibrahim a ram to be sacrificed in the place of his son.

There are two major distinctions between the this and the Judeo-Christian version as written in Genesis.

First, in Genesis the son to be sacrificed is not Ishmael, but Isaac.

And second, in the Qur’an Ishmael is aware of his father’s intentions and agrees to be sacrificed. Thus, Eid al-Adha remembers not only Ibrahim’s sacrifice, but Ishmael’s as well.

Arguably the figure of Ibrahim is more prominent in the Islamic faith than in either Judaism or Christianity. Even though he lived twenty-five hundred years before the Prophet Muhammad, Ibrahim is said to have lived a life consistent with Muhammad’s teachings. In addition to nearly sacrificing Ishmael, Ibrahim also broke ties with his own father Azar, an idolator who refused to follow the teachings of the one true God.

Traditionally Eid al-Adha was been celebrated through the sacrifice of an animal such as a sheep, goat, camel or cow. (In recent years the practice has become more controversial. Animal sacrifice is not one of the five pillars of Islam and Muhammad himself did not eat much meat.) The meat of the animal was split into three parts. One part for themselves and family, one part for friends and neighbors, and one part for the poor.

Eid al-Adha also recalls the journey of Hajar, mother of Ishmael, and her search for water:

…Prophet Ibrahim brought Lady Hajar and their baby son Ismail, by the command of God, to the deserted uncultivable valley of Makkah where the sacred house, Ka’bah, is now located. Prophet Ibrahim left Lady Hajar and their son alone by the order of God, and Lady Hajar said, “never ever will God neglect us.” Eventually, she ran out of provisions. Shortly thereafter, she ran up and down two hills, Safa and Marwa, seven times looking for water. Finally, a spring of water gushed at her baby’s feet. God had not neglected them. That same water is still gushing (Zamzam Well).

The Big Feast Eid al-Adha – Ahmed Shoker

 animal market - kashgar

Hajj: the fifth pillar of Islam

November 4-7, 2011

Today begins the Hajj to Mecca in which millions of Muslims around the world will leave their homes to embark on the journey that every financially and physically able Muslim must take once in their lifetime.

Destination: Makkah (Mecca), Saudi Arabia.

The Hajj to Mecca has been called the most diverse gathering of human beings ever assembled. Participants come from all countries, all races, and all walks of life.

Mecca is the city toward which, the rest of the year, Muslims pray five times a day. During Hajj millions converge on the Masjid al Haram, the holiest mosque in all Islam. The Holy Mosque’s open court can accommodate hundreds of thousands of worshipers, who circumambulate (I don’t get to use that word very often) around the centerpiece of the court: the Kaaba. The Kaaba is a stoic black cube which holds a sacred stone believed to have fallen from heavens in the days of Adam.

Kaaba in the middle of the Holy Mosque, circa 1880

It was here, thousands of years ago that Abraham and his son Ishmael introduced the world to monotheism, by building a small temple in the middle of the desert, as commanded by God. Abraham shouted out to the empty desert a welcome to anyone who would join him in prayer at the Kaaba. Each year during Hajj, millions answer his call.

Though the people of the Arabian peninsula have revered the site long before the days of Mohammad, it was the Prophet who set the stone in its final place. Muslims don’t worship the stone itself–Islam allows no idols of any kind. Rather, the place is revered for its connection to the Prophet Muhammad and to God.

This holy meteor has never been carbon-dated, but it was stolen once. According to www.lancashiremosques.com:

In 317/930 the Qarmatians raided Mecca; they captured the stone, and carried it off to al-Hasa or Bahrayn, where it was kept. Ransom was offered for it, which was ignored. Then in 340/951 it was thrown, the historian Juwayni relates, into the Friday Mosque of Kufah with a note: “By command we took it, and by command we have brought it back.”


During Hajj, pilgrims enter a state of Ihram. During Ihram one may not intentionally harm any living creature, and men must wear two pieces of unstitched cloth, one around their waist and one over their shoulders. As Kamran Pasha, author of Mother of Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam, explains:

In this way, all pilgrims are dressed exactly the same, eliminating differences of race, culture and economic status. Whether we are kings or paupers, whether we wear suits and ties or dashikis in the world we left behind, we are all the same now – human beings standing equally before our Creator, devoid of manmade distinctions.

Hajj is a spiritual journey, but it is also one of visas and vaccinations. passports and paperwork. The more one prepares, the better. Saudi Arabia does its best to accommodate over a million foreigners crossing its borders for the pilgrimage, but travel prices can be jacked up four-fold during, and sadly, “A number of pilgrims have reported being unable to reach Mecca due to fraudulent travel agencies eager to cash in on the world’s largest religious pilgrimage.”

Circling the Kabah seven times is the most important part of Hajj, but not all of it. Pilgrims also follow the footsteps of Hagar and her son Ishmael as they searched for water in the desert millennia ago. It is said Ishmael struck his foot on the ground and water sprang forth from the sand.

One couple’s unforgettable first Haj

A Journey of Hajj: Recreating Genesis at the House of God

Millions of Muslims Prepare For Hajj 2009

Saudi National Day

September 23

In 2008, National Day in Saudi Arabia was a muted celebration. It coincided with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, one of the most auspicious times of the year. And in Saudi Arabia, when it comes between the state and Islam, Islam has the first, last, and every word in between.

Islam is not just the official religion of Saudi Arabia, it’s the only religion. The law of the land is Shari’a–Islamic religious law based on the teachings of the Qur’an.

Shari’a covers everything from banking to hygiene. According to “Islamic Finance: Law, Economics, and Practice”:

…we do not mean that the Holy Quran and Sunna of the Holy Prophet or the rulings of Islamic scholars provide a specific answer to each and every minute detail of our socioeconomic life. What we mean is that the Holy Quran and the Holy Sunna of the Prophet have laid down the broad principles in the light of which the scholars of every time have deduced specific answers to the new situations arising in their age.

Saudi Arabia is one of the last true monarchies, where the king is also the head of state. The Saud royal family has ruled the bulk of the Arabian peninsula off and on since the 18th century. September 23 commemorates the creation of the modern Saudi Arabian state in 1932, but the date has only been celebrated as a holiday since 2005.

1932 was also the year that the discovery of oil in nearby Bahrain set off a wave of Western speculation. The following year Standard Oil of California struck a deal with the Saudi government to explore for oil. Pay dirt came in 1938 when the first of numerous massive oil reservoirs were discovered. Today Saudi Arabia is the largest oil exporter in the world.

In 2006, Forbes Magazine ranked Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud the 8th richest man in the world, the youngest of the top ten. And the national oil company, Saudi Aramco, is believed to be the world’s most profitable company; however, their finances are not made public.

The country’s most invaluable treasures however–as any Saudi Arabian will tell you–are Al-Masjid al-Harām (“the Sacred Mosque”) at Mecca and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (“Mosque of the Prophet”) in Medina.

The Sacred Mosque can accommodate over 800,000 worshippers, and over two million Muslims gather there each year during the Hajj, the great pilgrimage of Islam. At its center is the Kabba, where Ibrahim (or Abraham) is believed to have offered to sacrifice his son for God. Muslims around the world face this spot in Mecca when they pray.

The original Mosque in Medina was built by the Prophet Mohammad, who is buried at the site.

Recent National Day celebrations have been more jubilant (Saudi Arabia Celebrates National Day – AFP), but they don’t get going until nightfall. Temperatures in the 100’s (F) keep tend to keep celebrants inside during the day.