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Eritrea: Eid Al-Adha ‘Big Eid’


Today, Muslim families across Eritrea have come together to pray, feast, and celebrate Eid Al-Adha with loved ones. The first Eid, Eid al-Fitr, which occurred in April, is a celebration after Ramadan, the month of fasting. Eid Al-Adha, also known as the “Feast of Sacrifice,” is the second of two holidays celebrated by Muslims each year. The second holiday is considered holier of the two, hence its nickname “Big Eid”.

Like Eid al-Fitr, the date of Eid al-Adha depends on the Islamic lunar calendar and the sighting of the crescent moon, signaling the changing month. This means that in comparison to the Gregorian equivalent, the dates vary from year to year, drifting approximately 11 days earlier annually. Eid al-Adha falls on the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and most sacred month of the Islamic year. It is also when Hajj, a pilgrimage which all able-bodied Muslims are required to complete at least once, takes place.

At Eid al-Adha, the faithful celebrate by slaughtering an animal in honour of the prophet Ibrahim, who, according to the Islamic scripture, obeyed God’s order to sacrifice his own son. But before he could do so, God provided a male goat to sacrifice instead, sparing Ibrahim’s son. It is in celebration of Ibrahim’s love for God and his ultimate act of devotion that Muslims around the world celebrate Eid Al-Adha by sacrificing an animal.

In Eritrea, the celebration of Eid al-Adha begins in the morning, with the faithful congregated outside the Mosque reading “Salat al-Eid,” a special prayer offered to honour the festival. This is then followed by the sacrifice.

During the day the air is filled with all kinds of sweet fragrances coming from Oriental pastries on the streets. Frankly speaking Eid is a feast par excellence not just for Muslims but followers of other religions as well. A season of joy and fellowship of the followers of all religions surpassing many holidays, for during the day, in Eritrea, they all eat and drink together in a spirit of unity untainted by religious or some other bias.

Growing up, every Eid al-Adha I had friends who invited me to their houses. And I always anticipated the joy and fellowship that the feast provided for one and all. It is the day of joy when people get together. It is a day for feast and family gatherings, and for visiting relatives and old friends.

But all this time, I never learned to use the correct words while meeting with my hosts. I went there to eat and thought more with my stomach than with my brain. Finally did I learn the words. They went like this: Kulu Amm Wo Antum Bikheir or even Eid Mebruk. These were the magic words that opened the cornucopia of fruits, dates, peanuts, biscuits, aba’ke, coffee with ginger, caramels, sweetmeats, popcorn; you name it you have it.

Three years ago, I was invited to the feast of Eid al-Adha by Ahmed. On my way to his house I met people going to mosques wearing their brand new Jelebias and some carrying praying mats. I saw a proud father with his sons who had already learned to perform their salat preceded by ablution. His sons were probably rewarded with ice-cream on their way back home.

Ahmed was waiting outside his house; he was in his best Eid attire and greeted me with a beaming face. He led me to his house. His mother at the door seemed busy preparing a banquet, and I was made to sit and given aba’ke. The room was filled with a strong aroma from the burning Ud (sandalwood). Gradually, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends arrived one by one. When the father finally arrived, the banquet started with the serving of chicken stew, mutton, and rice, followed by all things pastry.