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Known as the Greater Eid, Eid al-Adha represents a conjunction of two of Islam’s five pillars: charity and pilgrimage. This festival of sacrifice is the second of two Islamic holidays celebrated worldwide each year and is considered the holier of the two. While it is a solemn time for reflection and devotion to the tenets of faith, Eid al-Adha is also an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends over a magnificent feast.

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What is Eid al-Adha

Eid al-Adha is known as the Feast of the Sacrifice, and at the heart of it is the story of Ibrahim. God, called Allah in Islam, appeared in a dream and told Ibrahim to sacrifice his son to prove his obedience. Ibrahim obeyed the message of the dream and took his son to the top of the mountain for the sacrifice. However, just as Ibrahim was about to perform the sacrifice, the boy was replaced by a ram. Because of Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son out of an unwavering commitment to God’s command, the boy was spared, and his devotion was rewarded.

An open Holy Quran and muslim prayer beads on wood stand with mihrab in background. Fred de Noyelle / Godong / Getty Images
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It begins with Eid Salat

The commencement of Eid al-Adha begins with a special prayer, known as Salat al-Eid, by the Imam. The prayer begins when the sun has risen above the height of a spear, about 10 feet, and continues until the sun is almost at its peak. At the end, there is usually a small speech, called a Khutbah, before the congregants are dismissed.

a boy is following Eid al-Adha prayer in the field.
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Difference between the two eids

Muslims celebrate two feasts a year, even though many simply declare that they are celebrating Eid. Both involve special prayers and celebrations but have different meanings. At the end of the holy month of Ramadan, where most Muslims do not eat or drink between the hours of sunrise and sunset, they break their fast with the festival called Eid al-Fitr. Eid al-Adha is roughly two months later during the holiest month and is seen as more sacred.

Family gathering and eating together during eid celebration in Malaysia ibnjaafar / Getty Images
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When is Eid al-Adha?

Dhu al-Hijjah is the last month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar, which is approximately 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. It is also the month that millions of Muslims travel the Hajj, which is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Eid al-Adha is a five-day celebration that falls on the 10th day of this sacred month and coincides with the end of the Hajj.

Dhu al-Hijjah Islamic lunar calendar orhandurgut / Getty Images
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Traditional dishes served for Eid

Most Muslims eat a form of red meat that’s roasted, curried, or barbecued during Eid, and some even opt for chicken and turkey. One traditional dish that’s popular in the Middle East is maqluba, a savory cake of rice, meat, and fried vegetables. In Jordan, mansaf, which is lamb cooked in fermented yogurt sauce with rice, is served on the first day of Eid. Then there’s biryani, a rich dish made with either vegetables or meat combined with rice and cooked in yogurt or ghee, clarified butter.

maqluba mansaf biryani yogurt MielPhotos2008 / Getty Images
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Variations on celebrating the feast

Apart from enjoying tasty food, Eid al-Adha is also about looking forward. In some Asian countries, individuals decorate their hands with henna as a means of securing blessings and atoning for past sins. In Nepal, worshippers apply surma, a herbal eyeliner, because they believe that it brightens the vision. Children get plenty of opportunities to play with friends, and in some cases, there may be amusement rides.

surma henna blessings vision OlegMalyshev / Getty Images
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Stoning of the Devil

During the Hajj rites, many pilgrims participate in the Stoning of the Devil. When Ibrahim was preparing for the sacrifice of his son, Shaytaan, the Devil, tried to dissuade him from carrying out the commandment. Ibrahim threw pebbles to drive the Devil away. To commemorate this rebuke, pilgrims throw pebbles at symbolic pillars.

Abstract smooth round pebbles sea texture background Matveev_Aleksandr / Getty Images
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Act of Qurbani

The act of Qurbani takes place during the first 3 days of Eid al-Adha and is to be performed by Muslims who fit certain criteria. It involves sacrificing an animal to mark the remembrance of Ibrahim’s commitment. Animals, such as goats, cows, or camels, must be of an old enough age and in good health at the time of slaughter. They have to be killed on the morning of Eid at the nearest mosque and in accordance with halal, Islamic dietary standards, or the act will be considered haram, prohibited.

Qurbani halal animal slaughter haram serts / Getty Images
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Qurbani meat distribution rules

Larger animals, such as bulls or cows, are assigned 7 shares per animal, meaning that there is enough meat for seven people. Smaller animals, such as sheep or lambs, have only one share. Regardless of the size of the animal being sacrificed, Qurbani meat distribution rules require that each share must be divided into 3 equal parts for family, friends, and those in need. Those in need and friends can be either Muslim or non-Muslim, and determining a share is done by weight.

Thin Cut, Raw Beef Short Ribs LauriPatterson / Getty Images
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The importance of charity during Eid al-Adha

Charity, or Zakat, plays a significant role in Eid al-Adha and is considered a great humanitarian deed. Muslims are encouraged to donate a Qurbani portion to the poor because meat is typically too expensive. Because Islam teaches the value of life and that God rewards a good deed done within the first days of the sacrifice, many Muslims also make financial pledges through charitable foundations during this time.

Man working at charitable foundation, packing cardboard donation box with canned food and blanket miodrag ignjatovic / Getty Images

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