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The Eid holiday: What does it celebrate?

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(Read caption) Interview with Reza Aslan

The Syrian cease-fire pegged to the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha has put the annual observance in the spotlight, bringing it to non-Muslims attention for reasons that have nothing to do with the holiday. But the “Feast of the Sacrifice” is one of the most important holidays on the Muslim calendar, actually trumping the better known festival holiday Eid al-Fitr in importance.

Eid al-Adha is celebrated at the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj, which each Muslim is supposed to undertake once in his or her life. It is welcomed at daybreak on the first day with a communal prayer and lasts three days.

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The holiday commemorates the day when Abraham was commanded by Allah to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. Abraham’s willingness to obey led Allah to permit him to sacrifice a ram in his son’s stead. (In the Judeo-Christian recounting, it is Abraham’s other son, Isaac, who is almost sacrificed.)

Eid al-Adha is celebrated with the sacrifice of an animal, part of which is kept for the family for a feast, part of which is distributed to friends and the poor. It also includes the distribution of gifts and sweets, visits with family, and, for those not in Mecca for the hajj, visits to local mosques and relatives’ graves.  
Today, much like Christmas, Eid al-Adha is also often marked in commercial ways. Gulf News reports that Dubai shopping malls are holding 24-hour “shopping extravaganzas” in honor of the festival holiday.

Incompatible with modernity?

In this video interview with StandAloneMedia (scroll to bottom of page), Reza Aslan, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of California, Riverside, and author of "No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam," shares his views on the misperceptions that abound about Muslims, modernity, and democracy.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Gulf News, the Oxford Dictionary of Islam