By Tamjid Alkohali
In Yemen, after the Eid prayers, the first thing fathers do are slaughtering their sheep. Yemenis then go to visit relatives. In this day children, men, and women wear new clothes, and families offer Eid cookies and sweets.
Some of the sacrificial meat is distributed as charity for the poor people. Both on the day of Eid and for three days after, people praise God by saying “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar La ilaha illa Allah, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar wa llilah alhamed,” a recitation meaning “God is the greatest, there is none worthy of worship except God, thanks be to God.”
The story of slaughtering sheep goes back to thousand years old. Tradition began during the Prophet Ibrahim days when had a dream to sacrifice his son Ismail.
Prophet Ibrahim had two sons. They grew up with good morals and strong beliefs. When Ibrahim told his son Ismail about the dream, Ismail wasn’t afraid or sad. He was quiet satisfy about his fate and told his father response to Allah order.
Despite his sadness, Ibrahim didn’t hesitate for a moment to implement what God ordered him for. Ismail asked his father to use a sharp knife in order to make the death quick and smooth.
When Ibrahim started slaying his son, the knife didn’t cut Ismail’s neck. He was protected by Allah. Suddenly, the angel Jibreel came to them carrying a lamb to be sacrificed instead of Ismail. From that time, slaughtering sheep and distributing it for poor people became a must in every Muslim family.
The incident of Ibrahim and his son coincides with the occasion of the Hajj pilgrimage in the Dhu al-Hijjah month, which is the last month in the al-Hijri, or Islamic calendar year. Hajj rituals start at the beginning of this month. The first ten days of this month are spent in spiritual, worshipful virtuous days culminating in Eid al-Adha on the tenth day. This day is called Arafa, which leads into the three Tashreeq days.
The pilgrimage to Mecca, known in Arabic and Muslim communities as “the Hajj” is one of the five pillars of Islam. It should be attempted at least once in the lifetime of all able-bodied Muslims who can afford to do so. It is the most important and largest of all Muslim pilgrimages.
The Hajj is associated with the life of the Islamic Prophet Mohammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of the prophet Ibrahim.
Pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, who converge in Mecca for Hajj. Al-Hajjij, or people who perform Hajj, perform a series of rituals: each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Ka’aba, the cube-shaped building which serves as the lodestone for all Muslim prayer, runs back and forth between the hills of al-Safa and al-Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil and throw stones in a ritual stoning of the devil.
Ihram was the first pillar of Hajj, which is the intention of entering into the act of Hajj. It is the name given to the special spiritual state in which Muslims live while on the pilgrimage.
During Ihram, the pilgrims all wear the same clothes: the white robes of pilgrimage. The white robe is meant to show the equality of all pilgrims in the eyes of God, and to stress that there is no difference between a prince and a pauper.
Ihram is also symbolic for holy virtue and pardon from all past sins. While conducting Ihram in Mecca, a pilgrim may not shave, clip their nails, wear perfume, swear or quarrel, hunt, kill any creature, uproot or damage plants, cover the head for men or the face and hands for women, marry, wear shoes over the ankles, perform any dishonest acts or carry weapons. If they do any of these their pilgrimage is invalid.
Al-Hajjij are prevented from many things in order to complete their Hajj in a correct way. These days, it is also preferable for Muslims to fast during their pilgrimage, because the prophet Mohammed said that the first ten days of Dhu al-Hijjah month are the best days in the year to worship God. After finishing the Hajj pillars on the ninth day of Dhu al-Hijjah month, the tenth day is “Eid al-Adha”.
On this day, pilgrims then can shave their heads, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice, and celebrate the three-day festival of Eid al-Adha before continuing their Hajj pillars. On the day of Eid al-Adha, all Muslims pray in the mosque and then slaughter a sacrificial sheep.