Muslim Festivals

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by Nada Ibrahim

[This presentation about Muslim Festivals was made at the JCMA Conference in 2007. It describes Eid ul Fitr (the festival of breaking fast), Eid ul Adha (the festival of sacrifice), Lailat ul Qadr (the Night of Power), Lailat al-Isra wa al-Mi`raj (the Night of the Journey and Ascension), `Ashura, Al-Hijra (Islamic New Year's Day), and Milad un Nabi (the Prophet's Birthday).]


  • Only two Muslim festivals set down in Islamic law:
    • Eid ul Fitr
    • Eid ul Adha
  • Eid is an Arabic word referring to something habitual, that returns and is repeated.
  • The Prophet’s words “Every nation has its festival, and this is your festival” indicate that these two Eids were exclusively for the Muslims (Hadith: Sunan Abi Dawood, 1134)
  • Nature of People - like to have special occasions to celebrate, where they can come together and express their joy and happiness.
  • Eid is a time to come together as a community
    • Renew friendships and family ties.
    • Time for peace for all Muslims in the world to devote to prayers and mutual well-being
    • Time for reconciliation
  • There are also several other special days which Muslims celebrate

Eid ul Fitr

  • Fitr means "to break the fast" and therefore symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period, Ramadhan.
  • Celebrated on the 1st of Shawwal (10th month of Hijri Calendar)
  • End of Ramadhan - vary in different countries - depending on the reliable sighting of the crescent moon
  • Festival begins with the first sighting of the new moon - lasts for 3 days although the main festivities occur on the first day
  • Eid is a joyous celebration with important religious significance
    • Happiness is observed as attaining spiritual uplift and enhanced piety after a month of fasting.
    • the believers celebrate at Eid because Allah has helped them to complete the month of fasting, not because the fasting, which some people regard as a heavy burden, is over.
    • It is a day of forgiveness, moral victory and peace, of congregation, fellowship, brotherhood and unity.
    • Muslims are not only celebrating the end of fasting, but thanking God for the help and strength that they believe He gave them throughout the previous month to help them practice self-control and to renew their commitment.

Etiquette of Eid

  • When Muslims finish their fast at the last day (29th or 30th Ramadan), they congregate to recite Takbir
    • which continues until the start of the Eid prayer
  • Before the Eid prayer begins - every Muslim (man, woman or child) must pay Zakat-ul-Fitr
    • an alms for the month of Ramadan
    • equates to about 2kg of basic foodstuff (wheat, barley, dates, raisins, etc.), or its cash equivalent
    • this is distinct from Zakat based on wealth, which must be paid to a worthy charity.
    • can be given at any time during the month of Ramadhan and is often given early – so recipient can utilise it for Eid purchases
    • distributed to needy local Muslims prior to the start of the Eid prayer – so that the poor and disadvantaged are not marginalized.
  • Celebratory atmosphere increased by people decorating their homes.
  • Muslims send cards to each other to celebrate this special time.

  • Eve of Eid - family members prepare food, cakes, sweets, biscuits and various delicacies to be served on the day of Eid.

  • In some cultures - Women, especially young girls - paint each others' hands with traditional "henna“, braid there hair, and wear colourful bangles.

  • Every Muslim encouraged to dress in their best clothes (new if possible) after performing ghusl (taking a bath)
  • Muslims eat dates or a substitute before going to prayer-place (Hadith: Al-Bukhari, Vol 2, 15:73)

  • Muslims with their families attend special congregational prayers in mosques, large open areas, parks, or stadiums.

  • The Eid prayer (salah) is followed by the sermon (khutba) and then a prayer (dua') asking for forgiveness, mercy and help for the plight of Muslims across the world.

  • After the special congregational prayers in the morning – greet and embrace each other with the common greeting Eid Mubarak or Eid Saeed, in the spirit of peace, love and brotherhood.
  • Customary to go out by one route and come back by another (Hadith, Bukhari, Vol 2, 15:102)
  • Eid is also the time for reconciliations - Feuds or disputes - between family members - often settled on Eid.
  • Elder family members - give eidi (small amount of money or gifts) and sweets to children
  • Exchange of Gifts – family members exchange gifts to foster love and caring.
  • Some Muslims - go to graveyard to pray for the departed and convey their salam (peace).
  • Day is spent visiting homes of friends and relatives in every culture
  • Special celebration meals are served up.
  • The day is spent in feasting and merriment.

  • After meeting friends and relatives, some people go for joyous parties, feasts, special carnivals and parks (with picnics, fireworks, etc.).
  • Some people also take this opportunity to distribute Zakat (the obligatory tax on one's wealth) to the needy.

Variations in Celebrations

  • Iraq - family enjoys a breakfast of buffalo cream with honey and bread before going on to the family lunch together, a special Eid sweetmeat called klaicha, a date-filled pastry, is made.
  • Egypt - special biscuits (kahk el-eid) made to give to friends and relatives on the day. Special fish dish forms the centrepiece of a great celebratory lunch.
  • Palestine - special sweetmeat, k'ak al-tamar, is made to serve with coffee.
  • Somalia - lunch which includes rice mixed with meat and vegetables, and pasta accompanied by anjira (a thin bread).
  • India, Pakistan and Fiji – savayya - dish of fine, toasted vermicelli noodles - served for the first breakfast after the fast.
  • Indonesia - family lunch consists of dishes made of chicken, lamb or beef, but never fish
  • Malaysia - festive dishes include ketupat (rice cooked in wrapped coconut leaves) and lemang (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo cane), served with beef rendang. Open houses are a common practice

Eid ul Adha

  • the second most important festival in the Muslim calendar.
  • 10th Day of Zhul-Hijja (12th month of Hijri Calendar)
  • Marks the completion of Hajj (or pilgrimage)

  • It is a tribute to Ibrahim (pbuh) and his obedience to Allah to sacrifice his son (Qur'an, 37:102-107).
    • Allah inspired Ibrahim (pbuh) in a dream to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience.
    • The devil tempted Ibrahim by saying he should disobey Allah and spare his son.
    • As Ibrahim was about to kill his son - Allah intervened
    • Instead Allah provided a ram as the sacrifice.
  • This is why today Muslims all over the world (who have the means) sacrifice a sheep, cow, camel or goat to remember Ibrahim’s obedience

  • Each Muslim – reminds himself/herself of own submission to Allah - own willingness to sacrifice anything to Allah’s wishes (Hadith, Vol 2, 15:71)
  • The meat from the sacrifice is shared with friends, neighbours, relatives, and also distributed to the poor and needy (Qur’an, 22:28).

Etiquette of Eid-ul-Adha

  • Etiquette of Eid ul Adha is similar of that to Eid ul Fitr except that the main focus is on meat of the sacrifice for the celebratory lunch
  • The animal can only be slaughtered after the special Eid congregational prayers have been offered (Bukhari, Vol 2, 15:82)
  • This is a four-day public holiday in Muslim countries.

Lailatal Qadr - Night of Power

  • Lailat al Qadr, the Night of Power – is one of the nights of the last 10 nights of Ramadhan
  • On this night, Qur'an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) by Allah.
  • Most important event in history
    • this night is better than a thousand months (Qur'an, 97:3)
    • on this night the angels descend to earth
    • only time when Archangel, Gibrael descends to earth after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
  • Many Muslims consider the 27th of Ramadhan to be the Night of Power - no evidence from the traditions of the Prophet to suggest so. Prophet (pbuh) mentioned that it was in the last 10 odd nights of Ramadhan (Hadith: Bukhari, Vol 3, 32, 234)
  • It is spent in study of the Qur'an, recitation and prayer.
  • Lailat al Qadr is a good time to ask for Allah’s forgiveness (Hadith, Bukhari, 1:2:34)

Lailat al-Isra wa al-Mi`raj

  • Night of the Journey and Ascension
  • Remembered on the 27th of Rajab (7th month of Hijri Calendar)
  • Marks
    • The night journey
    • ascent of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to the 7 heavens
    • The night when salat (prayer) was revealed and made compulsory on every Muslim
    • Salat is the only thing revealed to the Prophet Muhammad from the 5 pillars in the heavens, signifying its importance.
  • Celebrated
    • by narrating the beautiful account of the night journey of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) from Mecca to Jerusalem and then up to the 7 heavens.


  • `Ashura falls on the 9th and 10th day of Muharram
  • Sunni Muslims
    • usually fast on these days like the early Muslim community
    • Marks historical event - the day that Musa (pbuh) was saved by Allah from the Pharaoh in Egypt as he crossed the Red Sea (the Exodus day)
    • Hadith (Bukhari, 4:609)
  • Shi'a Muslims
    • commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein - a grandson of the Prophet (pbuh), in 680 CE.

Al-Hijra: Islamic New Year's Day

  • Al-Hijra - Islamic New Year – is first day of the month of Muharram.
  • Marks the Hijra (or Hegira) in 622 CE - Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) moved from Mecca to Medina - set up the first Islamic state.
  • Marks beginning of Islam as a community - spiritual and earthly life were completely integrated.
  • Muslim calendar counts dates from the Hijra - Muslim dates have the suffix A.H. (After Hijra).
  • Low-key event in the Muslim world - celebrated less than the two major festivals of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha.
  • No specific religious ritual
  • Muslims think about the general meaning of Hijra, and regard this as a good time for new beginnings
    • Qur'an uses word Hijra – to mean moving from a bad place or state of affairs to a good one.

Milad un Nabi - Prophet's Birthday

  • Milad un Nabi falls on the 12th of Rabi-ul-Awwal (3rd month of Hijri Calendar)
  • The birth of the Prophet Muhammad - regarded as great blessing for the whole of humanity.
  • Prophet Muhammad - deemed the chief of all the Prophets sent on earth - to him that the Holy Qur'an was revealed
  • Restricted festivities - the same day also marks the anniversary of the death of the Prophet.
  • Countries like Egypt have special sweets that are baked for this event and streets are decorated with lights and banners
  • Religious leaders make public speeches about different aspects of the life of the Prophet - his birth, childhood, youth and adult life.
  • Focus upon the character of the Prophet - his teachings, sufferings, and forgiveness - even his most bitter enemies.
  • Some Muslims disapprove of celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (pbuh),
    • on the grounds that it is an innovation - innovations in religious matters are forbidden.
  • Many Muslims do not believe in celebrating birthdays or death anniversaries because there is no historical evidence that the Prophet Muhammad ever did this.


  • We covered a brief overview of the following special days that many Muslims celebrate
    • Eid ul Fitr – Festival of Breaking Fast
    • Eid ul Adha – Festival of Sacrifice
    • Lailat ul Qadr – Night of Power
    • Lailat al-Isra wa al-Mi`raj
    • Night of the Journey & Ascension
    • `Ashura
    • Al-Hijra : Islamic New Year's Day
    • Milad un Nabi – Prophet’s Birthday
  • The Main festivals in Islam as laid down by Islamic Law are Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha, although many Muslims remember other significant days in Islam


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