What Is Eid al-Adha? Meaning and Origins Explained

Millions of Muslims are celebrating Eid al-Adha, the annual festival that marks the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham in Christianity and Judaism) sacrificing his son Ismail because Allah (or God) implored him to.

Eid al-Adha, Arabic for "the Feast of Sacrifice," will begin on Saturday and end on Wednesday. The four-day festival is one of Islam's most important holidays, and is celebrated by millions of Muslims globally.

The holiday begins on the 10th day of the 12th Muslim calendar lunar month of Dhul-Hijjah, as Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia, finishes. Dhul-Hijjah is one of the holiest periods of the Islamic year and is a month of increased spirituality.

The celebration follows Eid al-Fitr, which ended the holy month of Ramadan and this year, was celebrated on May 3.

Eid al-Adha is considered the holiest of the two Eids in both Sunni and Shia Islam.

Eid al-Adha in Pakistan
A customer checks the teeth of a cow at a livestock market ahead of the upcoming Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha in Quetta on July 3, 2022. Eid al-Adha, Arabic for the ‘the Feast of Sacrifice’, will begin on Saturday and end on Wednesday. Banaras Khan/Getty

Eid al-Adha Origins

In the holy Quran, Ibrahim dreams that Allah commands him to sacrifice his son Ismail in a sign of obedience to God.

Shaytaan (Satan) tried to confuse Ibrahim and tempt him not to go ahead with the sacrifice, but Ibrahim resists the temptation and drives him away.

Ibrahim later tries to kill his son, but Allah stops him, sending the Angel Jibreel (Angel Gabriel) with a ram for him to sacrifice instead.

"Adha," the Arabic word for "sacrifice," is commemorated on the final day of the Hajj pilgrimage, the fifth pillar of Islam. Muslims who are physically and financially able to go on Hajj are encouraged to do so, in what is seen as an Islamic lifetime duty.

The festival is also referred to as Eid al-Kabir (greater Eid, in Arabic), Qurbani Eid (Eid of sacrifice)/Baqra Eid (Eid of "cattle" slaughter, in South Asian languages) and Büyük Bayram (greater Eid, in Turkish).

Dr. Fozia Bora, associate professor of Islamic History at the University of Leeds in the U.K., told Newsweek: "The Eid al-Adha festival offers a fascinating case study of how contemporary Muslims grapple with such issues as the ethics of meat consumption in an age of intensive farming and often poor standards of animal welfare.

"While vegetarian and vegan Muslims interpret and apply the idea of 'sacrifice' in often quite different ways, the commitment to mark the ancient origins of the festival is retained, as is the desire to help feed the poor and needy. The spirit of giving, sharing and spreading joy, thus blurring distinctions of class and wealth, remains the visible hallmark of the festival across various communities."

How Eid al-Adha Is Celebrated

On Eid al-Adha, Muslims thank Allah for all their blessings and send good wishes to their loved ones.

The celebration also typically includes the symbolic sacrifice of a lamb, goat, cow, camel or other animal that is divided into threes to be shared among friends, family and the needy.

The sacrificing of animals was also a cultural practice of pre-Islamic Arabs in the Arabian peninsula, Bora said, adding that early Muslims of the region adopted and adapted the practice, which has remained stable over many centuries.

Muslims typically attend mosque on the first day of al-Adha, to perform ṣalāt, communal prayer, at dawn. They also donate to charities and visit family and friends, exchanging gifts. The "Qurbani"—or "sacrifice"—is offered in devotion to Allah and to help the vulnerable.

"It's remarkable how this festival offers a window onto a multicultural history spanning Biblical narratives, Arabian social practices and modern Muslim interpretations of the idea of 'sacrifice,'" she said.

"What we also see is a model of 'unity within diversity' where Muslims from different parts of the world, speaking vastly different languages, living in different climates and with differing local customs, tend to honor the festival in similar ways, through charity, prayers, eating together and decorating homes and bodies."