Ramadan

The Muslim Holidays More of Us Should Know

September 14, 2016

This year, Eid-al-Adha, the four-day Muslim holiday literally known as “festival of the sacrifice” in Arabic, narrowly avoided falling on September 11th. Beholden to the lunar calendar, the date changes every year.

In the run-up to this year’s celebration, many of my Muslim friends joked that they wouldn’t publicize the fact that they were celebrating Eid-al-Adha; they worried that proclamations of pride in their faith could be misinterpreted as a callous lack of sympathy for 9/11’s victims.

There are two official holidays decreed by Islam, both called Eid. Eid-al-Adha is distinct in intent and feel from Eid-al-Fitr, Arabic for “festival of breaking the fast,” the celebration that follows Ramadan. Lavish feasts are integral to both holidays, yet their flavor profiles are wildly different.

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The story behind Eid-al-Adha goes as follows: In a moment of divine instruction, Ibrahim became convinced to sacrifice Ishmael, his thirteen-year-old son. Ishmael himself was a willing participant, so deep was his devotion to God. Just before enacting the sacrifice, though, God intervened, instead offering Ibrahim a ram to sacrifice in his son’s stead. The cuisine of Eid-al-Adha is an offshoot of this mythos.

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Top Comment:
“Just wondering, should it be "the Muslim holidays" or "the Islamic holidays"? I thought I have been hearing the latter until now because it is about the Islam's holiday which is celebrated by the Moslems , but I might be having a false memory about English”
— foofaraw
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After humanely slaughtering a goat, sheep, cow, or camel, families distribute the animal’s remnants among three groups—their wider family, their dearest friends, and the financially disadvantaged. Fried liver is usually served for breakfast, while, for other meals, the outcomes vary by region. Biryanis are popular in South Asia, while kebabs are ubiquitous in Turkey. This has earned Eid-al-Adha the occasional moniker of Salty Eid.

Eid-al-Fitr, instead, is sometimes called Sweet Eid. Eid-al-Fitr falls at the end of a month-long fasting in observance of Ramadan, and its dishes don't pivot around a central ingredient—they're usually sweet desserts, ranging from Turkish baklavas to Indian kheer, a type of rice pudding.

I admit that I didn’t know the difference between the two Eids myself until a few years ago. My private school in suburban New Jersey didn’t place much emphasis on enforcing a basic understanding of Islam upon its students. My knowledge of Islam’s basic tenets was largely self-taught because I noticed that people tended to believe that I—a Hindu, South Asian guy—was Muslim.

I graduated from high school six years ago, though. I'm hoping a lot has changed about our education system in the years since. This is a cultural literacy everyone should have—something our current political moment especially enforces. At the start of this year's festivities, the mosque that Orlando Pulse nightclub gunman Omar Mateen once attended was set ablaze by an unknown arsonist. Before that, an Albanian immigrant woman attacked two Muslim women with strollers. A still-unnamed assailant set a Muslim woman on fire in Midtown over the weekend. My friends spoke to a fear of similar fates, too. All of this urges the need to understand the multifarious core beliefs of our country, ultimately moving toward the goal of allyship.

Update, 9/15: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Eid-al-Adha falls in September each year, and that Ramadan is in the summer. We've updated accordingly.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.

12 Comments

Emily L. September 15, 2016
Love this post and would love to see more like them! Thanks for educating (and tying it back into food too!)
 
Shalini September 15, 2016
I like that you explained the sacrificial.element of the Eid that just passed. This explains the images of rivers of animal.blood mixed with monsoon rain flooding Dhaka, Bangladesh in the news right now. A difficult topic to tackle for a Bengali Hindu from New Jersey, for sure!
 
jlg84 September 15, 2016
Ramadan is not always in the summer, since the holiday moves across the Western calendar in accordance with Islam's lunar calendar.
 
latenac September 15, 2016
Yes, this whole paragraph needs to be changed to reflect the lunar calendar that is the Islamic calendar -

""There are two official holidays decreed by Islam, both called Eid. Eid-al-Adha usually falls in September, and it’s distinct in intent and feel from Eid-al-Fitr, Arabic for “festival of breaking the fast,” the celebration that follows Ramadan in the early summer. Lavish feasts are integral to both holidays, yet their flavor profiles are wildly different."

Both holidays fall in the same months of the Islamic calendar, however they always fall on a different day from year to year in the Gregorian calendar. While I appreciate the idea of having an outsider write about the holidays and why someone should understand them, this article might have done well to be fact checked by someone who is Muslim as I wonder what else you might have gotten wrong aside from just this basic Wikipedia fact about the calendar.
 
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Mayukh S. September 15, 2016
Updated the post to correct all of that. Really appreciate you keeping me in check. Thanks for reading.
 
Panfusine September 14, 2016
What about other festivals we hear of (muharram etc, although I believe that is a festival of atonement that is restricted to the Shia sect), Is the iconic SHeer korma (sweet vermicelli pudding) associated with Eid ul Adha or Eid ul Fitr?
 
foofaraw September 14, 2016
Just wondering, should it be "the Muslim holidays" or "the Islamic holidays"? I thought I have been hearing the latter until now because it is about the Islam's holiday which is celebrated by the Moslems , but I might be having a false memory about English
 
Author Comment
Mayukh S. September 15, 2016
Very fair question—I've seen both used, but 'Muslim holidays' was more commonly used by other publications, which is why we went with that in this case. Thanks for reading!
 
foofaraw September 15, 2016
Ah, I see. Thanks for replying!
 
angie September 14, 2016
these cookies look delicious! Thanks for this article.
 
latenac September 14, 2016
The Islamic calendar is a lunar one so Eid-al-Adha moves up about 11 days every year and is not usually in September at least no more usually than any other month.
 
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Mayukh S. September 14, 2016
Thanks for catching that oversight—will update accordingly!