`Eid Al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, is one of the most beautiful times in the whole year. No glitz and glamour, there is just Allah once more at the centre of our lives and the centre of our thoughts. We celebrate the feast at His command, and in it we try to draw closer to Him.
Eid Al-Adha, of course, is bound up with the Hajj – that once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Makkah which all Muslims make at the command of Allah, if they are able to – and it comes at the end of it. Muslims throughout the world who are not physically present on the plain of `Arafat or at the sacred Ka`bah during those holy days of Hajj, can nonetheless take part through their celebration of the feast and their preparation for it. So how can we prepare for the feast, if we are not going to be present in the pilgrimage?
Our beloved Prophet said of the first ten days of the month of Dhul-Hijjah – the month in which the pilgrimage takes place – that “there are no days in which righteous deeds are more beloved to Allah than these ten days.” (Al-Bukhari) As Muslims, then, we should seize the chance that these special days offer us. How blessed we are that we are continually being offered chances, time and again, for our sins to be forgiven and for us to draw closer to Allah. How slow we are, though, to respond.
There are basically several ways in which we can prepare. The first is by fasting. How many of the days we fast, if we choose to do so, is quite up to us, but on the ninth day, it is Sunnah to do so. In other words, the Prophet of Allah used to fast on this day and encouraged others to do so, in solidarity with those who are taking part in the pilgrimage. On that ninth day of Dhul-Hijjah, the pilgrims stand on the Plain of `Arafat, close to Makkah, begging for their sins to be forgiven. In the blistering heat, they beg for mercy and forgiveness. It was on the Plain of `Arafat that Almighty Allah once gathered all the souls of everyone who would ever live and told them that there is no God but He. It was here that Adam and Eve were forgiven. It will be on this same spot, at the end of time that all souls will gather for the Final Judgment. In our mosques, in our homes, and in our workplaces, then, throughout the world, we can fast on this blessed day and pray for forgiveness in our own lives.
The second way we can prepare for the feast is by repeating certain words and phrases during these days, which will keep us in mind of Allah. The Hajj pilgrims will constantly be calling out AllahuAkhbar and La ilahailla Allah, as they perform the Hajj rituals. We too, then, can do the same. On our way to work or to school, what more beautiful words could we utter?
Another way to prepare for the feast during these ten days of Dhul-Hijjah is to do what the pilgrims on Hajj will have done. They will have asked forgiveness of all those they offended, before setting off. They will have repaid debts. In fact, they will have done everything they can to set their lives straight before journeying to place themselves in the presence of Allah. Think about all the people we have offended by careless words and actions. These days are a chance to wipe those offences out and to re-kindle friendships and relationships. Muslims, after all, are at peace with all people. To find some real peace in our lives, we need to be at peace with others. Use the blessed days of Dhul-Hijjah to make up.
Another step to perform in preparation for the feast is one of the central acts of the Hajj, and one which causes such misunderstanding in those who are not Muslim. It is to sacrifice a sheep, in imitation of Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice of a ram in place of his son Isma`il. We do this, of course, with our families, who will share in the food with us. So much nonsense has been written about the sacrifice of these animals each year, as though Muslims were slaughtering animals just for the sake of it.