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How Eid al-Adha is celebrated — and why some Muslim-Americans were relieved it didn’t fall on Sept. 11

In Minnesota, tens of thousands of Muslims are marking Eid al-Adha with feasts, prayers and giving.

Afghans leave a mosque after morning prayers to celebrate the first day of Eid al-Adha in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday.
REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

As with each important date in the Islamic calendar, Muslims around the world turned their ears last week to hear reports about the sighting of the September crescent moon in anticipation of Eid al-Adha, one of their most important holidays.

If people sighted the moon on the first day of the month, the holiday would have taken place on Sept. 11, a coincidence that stirred fear among Muslim-American leaders: They felt if the festival occurred on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, it might trigger a backlash.

Last Thursday, however, many in the community were relieved when religious authorities in the Middle East confirmed that Eid al-Adha — an Arabic phrase for Feast of the Sacrifice, which commemorates the end of the annual pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia — was instead scheduled on the day after the 9/11 anniversary.

That’s today.  

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In Minnesota, tens of thousands of Muslims are marking Eid al-Adha with feasts, prayers and giving. The festival is one of two annual celebrations — the other is Eid al-Fitr — observed by Muslims throughout the world.

Here’s a look at the histories and significance of both celebrations and how they’re celebrated in Minnesota:

What’s the story behind Eid al-Adha?
Eid al-Adha marks the end of the Muslim pilgrimage, the once-in-a-lifetime mandatory trip to Saudi Arabia, where pilgrims perform a five-day group and individual ritual in the country’s holiest cities Mecca and Medina.

The signature celebration in Eid al-Adha is the slaughtering of sheep, goats, cows and camels to commemorate the prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail, when he thought it was God’s command. But later, as the story goes, God provided him with a lamb, which Ibrahim sacrificed in place of his son. 

In Minnesota, the slaughtering of animals isn’t as common as it is in the Muslim World. Instead, observers give money to help the poor and needy.

What about Eid al-Fitr?
Eid al-Fitr commemorates the end of Ramadan, the month in which the first verse from the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. In this celebration, Muslims are obligated to offer charity to the less fortunate before they head out to the special morning prayers.

What are the dates for Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr?
There aren’t actually specific dates for them. Like all other important dates in Islam, both holidays are based on the lunar calendar. This means, each month begins with the naked-eye sighting of the new crescent moon. And because the Islamic calendar year is consistently shorter than the Western solar calendar year, Eid days shift each year. For example, Eid al-Adha fell on Sept. 24 in 2015 and on Oct. 4 in 2014.

The Islamic calendar consists of 12 months. Eid al-Fitr is celebrated in the first day of Shawwal, which is the 10th month of the Islamic calendar. Eid al-Adha falls on the 10th of Dhul al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the calendar.

How are these holidays celebrated in Minnesota?
Both holidays are celebrated about the same way. Observers wear their best clothes for morning prayers. In the Twin Cities, most of the people go to the Minneapolis Convention Center and the Xcel Energy Center, where they perform Eid prayers between 8 and 10 a.m.

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After the prayers, observers often celebrate with traditional festive foods and sweets with their families. Kids are taken to visit other family members, the Mall of America and other local attractions.

During Eid al-Adha, some Muslims in Minnesota seek out a farm where they can sacrifice animals, though most people give money to the needy instead. The celebration can last up to three days — but in the Western countries, people usually go back to their regular work schedules the next day. 

Are there special greetings for these holidays?
Yes. The most common traditional greeting is Eid Mubarak, which means Blessed Eid. People also use Eid Said (pronounced “eed sayeed”), or Happy Eid.