The Festival of Sacrifice (Eid al- Adha)

A while ago, I joined a group on a social network where every new member is required to write about an important celebration in their culture as a way of introducing themselves.  Eid al- Adha came to my mind right away because in addition to Eid al-Fitr, this is the only celebration I know to be of any importance to me.

Anyway, I wrote about Eid-al Adha in a way that non-Muslims will understand and added my cultural twist to it as required but for some reasons, I did not get to post the write-up. Hence, I decide to use it as my first post on this blog.  Sincerely speaking, celebrating Eid here in England is such a lonely affair that describing the way we do it back at home made me cry.

Eid al-Adha generally

This festival of sacrifice is variously called Eid al-Adha or Eidul al-Kabir. It’s a celebration to commemorate the obedience of Ibrahim, otherwise known as Abraham; when Allah (God) commanded him to sacrifice his only son, Ismail known as Ishmael.  The willingness of Ibrahim to do as commanded by Allah without hesitation showed the extent of his faith in Allah and thus, Allah provided him a ram to sacrifice in place of Ismail.

For this, every year on the 10th day of Dhul-hijah, in the Muslim lunar calendar that also marks the end of the annual Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, Muslims all over the world celebrate this Eid as exemplified by the prophet Muhammed (saw). The basic pillars of the celebration include gathering together of all Muslims, old and young, males and females, irrespective of their status in society, to pray, usually in an open-air praying ground.

After the prayers, the Imam (the prayer leader), gives the Khutbah (sermon) and then performs his sacrifice and the Muslims do the same on returning back to their respective homes. The meat from this sacrifice is then shared with family, friends and neighbours. The most important aspect of this is the sharing of the meat and the joy of the day, with great consideration for those less fortunate.

The Eid usually last 3 days with the 2 subsequent days being for various celebratory activities, depending on the culture and place of the people, some people keep the celebration just for the one day only.  But it is known that the prophet allowed the celebration for up to 3 days.

Every country and culture have their own twist on the celebration of Eid but the basic pillars are the same.  In my culture, which is that of the Yoruba from Nigeria, the vernacular for the Eid is “Ileya” which simply translates as “home coming”. My people tend to be very elaborate and that flair shows in everything they do and Eid is no exception.

How do we celebrate Eid in the Yoruba Culture?

It usually starts with a month’s or so preparations ahead that include buying new clothes and accessories. Of course the ram and ingredients for the food to serve on the day. Then inviting, reminding and checking on family members who are far-flung away to come home. Coming home for Eid is a tradition that cannot be broken without a valid reason in my culture. In some families, even n0n-muslim members of the family are mandated to come home, not necessarily to join the celebration but to convene as family. This is the case in my family, as I have Uncles and Aunties who are non-Muslims but still need to join the family during “ileya”. [Another occasion for celebration in my culture that these people will convene again is not so much of a celebratory occasion for me. I think I should write about this other celebration in another post.]

Where is home ?

Generally in Nigeria as a country, most people have a home town but are settled in other towns or city for reasons of work, studies, marriage or other factors. So, when it’s Eid time, of course “home coming” you can see an exodus of people moving from one Town/City to another, most especially on the eve of Eid, you can see car-loads of people moving not just themselves but their belongs as if they will not be coming back.

The eve of Eid, is usually spent trying on the new clothes and accessories bought for the Eid, especially by the children and young adults. The elders sit back reminiscing on old days and things in the past when they were young compared to what it is now, or just general talk between them. The atmosphere created by this hustle and bustle even before the Eid itself is so extra-ordinary that I have never experienced it in any other celebration.  I have no words to explain other than to say, the serenity you find in a chaotic home coming, the gathering of relatives of differing attitudes and the joyous expectations of the celebrations ahead, all combined give you that special feelings.

The morning of the Eid day

Can’t be late, get ready, the car is ready to move, those are familiar words you will hear early in the morning after Fajr salat (Morning Prayer). You can see everyone running here and there trying to beat the time. Because the Eid Salat is said in the high-morning hour of around 9am and it’s usually in an out-of-town open-air prayer ground. People need to leave early to avoid the long traffic that leads to the ground in order to join the prayer at the beginning.

On the way to the prayer ground

On the way to the prayer ground, you can see families in cars or on foot towards the prayer ground mostly dressed in the flamboyant Yoruba way. While some may be modestly dressed but majority just can’t let the day pass-by without showing off those newly made colourful iro and buba for the women and the agada for the men. At least, its Eid day and Muslims are encouraged to be in their best clothing for the celebration, how else would you show its Eid? In the Islamic tradition, people are encouraged to say the Takbir (Glorifying Allah) continuously throughout the day of Eid. Usually people do this on their way to the prayer ground and when they reach the praying ground up till the start of the prayer and afterwards.

The Eid prayer

Once its time for the salat, the Imam leads the prayer and the people follow. Its usually two units of prayer and after this, the Imam does the khutbah (sermon). The sermon usually touches on things relevant to the people and the environment they live in and exhortations to be good in whatever they do according to the teachings of Islam and so on. After the sermon, the Imam made to perform his sacrifice and that marks the end of the Eid prayer. Everyone, will then leave for their home and perform their individual sacrifice and celebrations begin.

The celebrations

Once the ram has been sacrificed, it’s left for the women to set out to do the cooking; the cooking is usually communal with women from the family coming together to do the cooking as a team. Some of the meat from the ram is distributed to other families, friends and neighbours, either cooked or uncooked depending on each family’s convention. Some family cook before they share, some share without cooking and some will do both. The celebration food is usually rice to accompany the meat and some other food, depending on family.

In Yoruba culture, the children will make rounds to different families’ home usually relatives and friends who will in turn give them money which will later be shared among all the children.

Family meetings are usually scheduled for the second day of Eid; the elders in the family meet up and discuss the affairs of the family from the previous year to date. This is mainly because most members of the family only come home once in a year just to celebrate Eid and this opportunity is used to convene and discuss issues that matters to the family.

Also, there is a tradition know as “egbe” translated as “age group” practised by some tribes in the Yoruba culture. People of the same age group from different families use the opportunity to meet each other and catch up or just do things together. This tradition of age grouping is usually practiced by the Remo tribe and I am not sure how far this is true for other tribes in the Yoruba culture. Up till now, I have no idea of the rationale behind this age grouping because I never attended, though I was automatically placed in one.

The last day of Eid celebration, which is the third day, is the day all families convene to the courtyard of the King of the Town to pay homage to the King. Every town and cities in the Yoruba culture have their own King and culturally some among the Yoruba tribes see it as part of Eid celebration to go and show their respect to the King, who in turn addresses the gathering according to their traditions. Thus, they come in families, groups and clubs, pitch their tent on the king’s  courtyard, serve themselves food and drinks and continue the festivities up to the end of the day when they are all tired and run down from celebration and head back home. Thus ends the three-day long Eid celebration in the Yoruba culture, from the perspective of the Remo tribe.

I am very much aware that there is a bit of variation in the ways people celebrate Eid in the different tribes that constitute the Yoruba culture, even within different families of the same tribe. But the basic pillars as summarised earlier holds for everyone irrespective of family, tribe, culture and country.

More information on Eid al-Adha:

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