Quick! What the Hell is Eid al-Adha?

By Wendy Thomas Russell | October 16, 2013 | 9 comments

There are certain religions that seem to wear their differences on their sleeves. Stand a Hasidic Jew next to a Sunni Muslim, for example, and I know immediately which is which. The headgear, the clothing. One is praying to God, the other invoking the name Allah. It’s kind of a no-brainer.

But if you remove the clothing and the terminology, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are so darn similar. Allah is just the Arabic word for God, after all. Both the Qur’an and Torah have their roots in the Old Testament of the Bible. And, in all three religions, Abraham was pretty much the shit.

You remember Abraham. He’s the guy who was willing to sacrifice his son to prove his love, loyalty and obedience to God. Pretty heady stuff. Anyway, it’s Abraham’s sacrifice that inspired the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha – which occurred yesterday but was completely overshadowed by the damn debt ceiling brouhaha  A day late and a dollar short, as they say. Anyway: Happy Eid! Here’s your rundown:

Holiday: Eid al-Adha

Pronounced: Eed el-AH-dah. (Say it out loud, and you’ll find it sounds like “eat-a-lotta.” Given that this holiday is based on food — killing it, eating it and sharing it — this couldn’t be more apropos.)

AKA: “Festival of Sacrifice”

Religion Represented: Islam

Date: Eid al-Adha falls on the 10th day of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah in the lunar Islamic calendar.  In 2013, the date was Oct. 14-15.

Celebrates: The willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for Allah.

On a Scale of 1 to 10: Eid al-Adha is a 9 or 10. It comes at the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia — which is incredibly important to Muslims.

Star of the Show: Abraham

Back Story: Although the entire story of Abraham is worth noting in its entirety, Abraham is perhaps most famous for being willing to sacrifice his son to prove his devotion to Allah. As the story goes, just as Abraham was about to do the deed, Allah revealed that there was no need — that Abraham’s willingness to make the sacrifice was enough. A ram was sacrificed instead. And Abraham said: “Phew.” (Or, you know, probably did.)

Associated Literary Passages: Genesis 22:1-17Qur’an 37: 100-111.

The Food:  To mimic the slaughter of the ram, many Muslims slaughter an animal — such as a sheep, cow, camel, or goat. Once cleaned and cut, one third of the animal is kept, one third is shared with friends and family, and one third given to the poor and less fortunate. It’s this last part —sharing your wealth with others by giving your meat away — that serves as the heart of this holiday.

The Fun: Here in the United States, Muslims pray, exchange gifts and hold feasts. Meat is distributed throughout the community. Many Muslims go where the needs are — soup kitchens, hospitals, homeless shelters — as well as to graveyards to pay their respects to the dead.

Why Eid al-Adha is Often Misunderstood: The word “sacrifice” causes images of bloody, nasty torture rituals. But that isn’t the case. Eid’s sacrifices are akin to the slaughter of turkeys at Thanksgiving — with one exception: In the Middle East, people traditionally kill the animals themselves, while we have slaughterhouses do it.

Conveying Meaning to Kids: Giving food away is a concept all children can get on board with. You can then explain that Muslims give food away in order to honor Abraham. Maybe listen to some Egyptian music on Pandora while making cookies and then give the cookies away to neighbors. Or donate toys and clothes to local shelters. Be sure to check these delicious-looking Eid recipes out, as well. They’ll make your mouth water.

For more from the Holiday Cheat Sheet for Nonreligious Parents, click here.

This post originally appeared Nov. 7, 2011.



  1. […] morning, and I’m telling Maxine about Eid al-Adha, which I wrote about for Monday’s blog. I’m explaining how Muslims all over the world are celebrating a holiday that consists of […]

  2. Just a tip… never stand a Hasidic Jew next to a Sunni Muslim

  3. Kathy says:

    Speaking of headgear, here’s some classic commentary on it (and the Bible-as-prop) from George Carlin. Enjoy.

  4. Charlie says:

    I also think it’s a mistake to whitewash the stories. If it is important for kids to make up their own minds about religion, we owe it to them to present the stories as they actually are, not as some sanitized version. And if it is also important for kids to have a healthy respect for people who are religious, we have to respect the religion enough at least enough to present it as it is. The story about Abraham’s test of faith is complicated. Sugar-coating it, however well intentioned, cheapens it. I thihnk if the kid is too young to be exposed to the religious story (and certainly not all religious stories are kid-friendly), wait.

  5. Rian says:

    I haven’t been reading your blog very long. What is your background with religious upbringing? I ask because we seem to have differing philosophy of secular parenting, and I’m wondering if it’s generational, sort of like how immigrants ‘convert’ to identifying as American after a couple generations.

    • Hi Rian. Thanks for writing. I’m definitely in agreement that my philosophy may differ from yours, although I’m not sure it has to do with upbringing or age. But since you asked: I wasn’t raised in any particular way. My parents had beliefs/nonbeliefs but didn’t really talk about them a whole lot — and certainly didn’t impose them on me. That said, I grew up in a heavily Christian small town in the Midwest, and didn’t know much, if anything, about other religions until I went to college. I went through a period of being anti-religious, blaming religion for many of the world’s woes, etc., but have since come to a different point of view. That being said, while my blog is mostly personal, my work is not. Every time someone writes to me, or comments in response to something I write, I take it to heart. I’m learning about what makes other secular parents tick — what they’re issues are, what concerns them, and how they’re communicating with their kids. By the end of this process, I hope to be able to offer something to ALL secular parents — not just those who agree with me all the time. Thanks again!

      • Rian says:

        I appreciate the goal of guidance for secular parents (I found you via Dale McGowan). My parents were both raised Catholic but as adults were agnostic. They were sort of uneasy with directing our opinions. As an adult I now self-identify as firmly atheist. I felt as a young adult that my parents sort of hid their doubts and left us to ‘decide for ourselves’. Their inclination to go through motions rather than seem biased just left me confused and unsure of how they’d react. I don’t want to be dismissive of religion, but I don’t feel I need to present the ideas as being equally valid. Why sanitize the story of Abraham? I tell my kids people are free to their beliefs as long as they aren’t harming others. The idea of ‘giving up’ your kid for your faith? not so acceptable to me.

        • Yep, totally see your point. It’s just hard for me to judge the stories themselves because, to me, they’re just stories. And they originated so long ago, who knows whether they were ever meant to be interpreted literally at all. There’s almost nothing I appreciate more than a well-written, dramatic story — and, seriously, as Biblical stories go, Abraham’s is toward the top of the heap. But, yes, you are right: We have to walk a fine line as parents — and it’s not always easy. And, like you said, there’s no sense white-washing things, either, if you can help it. Thanks again, Rian. So glad you’re here.

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