Muslims across Asia celebrate Eid Al-Adha with family, feasts and acts of generosity
• Reporting by Sheany Yasuko Lai in Jakarta, Sib Kaifee in Islamabad, Sanjay Kumar in New Delhi, Nor Arlene Tan in Kuala Lumpur, Ellie Aben in Manila, and Mohammed Rasooldeen in Colombo
Across the archipelagos of Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka, hundreds of millions of Asian Muslims marked Eid Al-Adha in the spirit of togetherness and giving.
Asia is home to about 65 percent of the world’s Muslims. In one of its biggest countries, Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority nation, Islam is professed by more than 230 million people, or 86 percent of the population.
The country, which spans 17,000 islands, is home to more than a thousand ethnic groups, each with its own distinct traditions. But during Eid, those who follow Islam unite in prayer and contemplation on the value of self-denial.
Eid Al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, commemorates the Prophet Ibrahim’s test of faith when he was commanded by God to sacrifice his son. To reflect his readiness to do so, Muslims around the world slaughter an animal, usually a goat, sheep or cow, and distribute the meat among relatives and the poor.
“If we were to take a look at the history, how Prophet Ibrahim was commanded to sacrifice his son, Prophet Ismail, and Allah later gave him a lamb to sacrifice instead, this event taught Muslims to ‘slaughter’ the feeling of ownership,” said Arina Islami, 23, a newscaster at Radio Silaturahim in Bekasi, a city adjacent to the Indonesian capital Jakarta.
“Ultimately, everything in this world, including wealth, family, position and everything else, is entrusted by God, and human beings do not have ownership at all,” Islami told Arab News. “Eid Al-Adha is a reminder that what we have right now is merely entrusted by Him.”
For Islami, besides the spiritual dimension, the holiday is also about learning to give and share, and cherish being close to family.
“In my community, Eid Al-Adha traditions usually involve gathering relatives and friends,” she said. “At these moments, we grill sacrificial meat and eat it together. It’s a warm moment, because even distant relatives join in, gathered in togetherness.”
In neighboring Malaysia, where about 60 percent of the nation’s 33 million-strong population is Muslim, time spent with family is prized above all else during Eid, especially after the coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions prevented people from spending time with relatives.
Civil servant Fatimah Zahra and her family traveled hundreds of kilometers from their home in Kuala Lumpur to the northern state of Kedah to spend Eid with her in-laws. Next year, the holiday will be spent with her parents back in the Malaysian capital.
“We always take turns in celebrating Eid Al-Adha,” she said.
“We all chip in to help with the food preparations and cooking the night before. My mother-in-law is usually the one doing the cooking on the morning of Eid.”
But not everyone has been able to follow the Malay tradition of visiting ancestral homes this year.
For Raja Azraff, whose family originates from Negeri Sembilan on the southwest coast of the Malay Peninsula, a recent bereavement has changed the venue for the household’s annual gathering.
“We haven’t gone back to our hometown since I lost my grandmother during the pandemic,” Azraff told Arab News. “(Now) we celebrate (Eid) with family and close relatives in Kuala Lumpur.”
In the neighboring Philippines, Muslims constitute roughly 5 percent of the 110 million-strong, predominantly Catholic, population. Concentrated mostly in the country’s south, they are ethnically related to the Muslims of Malaysia and Indonesia, and share many of their traditions.
“The most important aspect of Eid for us is spending time together and asking forgiveness from one another,” Elin Anisha Guru, from Marawi city in the predominantly Muslim province of Lanao del Sur on the island of Mindanao, told Arab News.
For her, the Prophet Ibrahim’s story is about learning the significance of undergoing personal trials.
“You really conquer your personal demons, your personal doubts, whatever is keeping you from your righteousness, or service, and you make sure that you don’t allow them to distract you.”
Moving westward from the islands of Southeast Asia to the world’s second-biggest Muslim nation, Pakistan, where more than 210 million people follow Islam, there is a strong focus on both sacrifice and giving.
“Eid Al-Adha for me is very much about the donation aspect of it,” said Shahmir Khan, a 21-year-old engineering student at Purdue University, who returned home to Rawalpindi for Eid.
“It’s very important for me, when I am in a position to offer the sacrifice of an animal, to give the result of that to the poor community and the people who can’t afford to do that, to give meat to them,” he told Arab News.
For Sonia Syed, a homemaker in Islamabad, donating every piece of sacrificial meat to those in need holds a special spiritual significance.
“Eid Al-Adha is about bringing family together. It’s about passing the religious tradition from one generation to another. It’s about fulfilling the duties we need to do,” she told Arab News.
“As a family, we had decided earlier on that we won’t distribute the sacrificial meat among family, friends, and neither keep it to ourselves. God has blessed us with more than plenty, so we need to give to (needy) people around us.”
Syed said that after the first day of Eid her whole family gets together, with all its members involved in cooking and preparing for the gathering.
“Everybody cooks a dish so one household doesn’t have to take all the pressure of hosting,” she said. “We offer prayers, we talk, we put on henna, and enjoy.”
The same Eid atmosphere fills Muslim households across the border in Hindu-majority India, where more than 200 million people profess Islam.
or Ovais Sultan Khan, a rights activist originally from Amroha in Uttar Pradesh, Eid Al-Adha is about sacrifice and compassion.
“It serves as a reminder of the profound lessons learned from Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice,” he told Arab News. “It encourages us to embody the values of sacrifice in our daily lives, sacrificing our own desires, ego and material possessions for the sake of pleasing Allah.
“Eid Al-Adha also strengthens bonds, encourages social cohesion and reminds people of their shared responsibilities toward one another.”
And it is also about equality.
At the home of Hana Mohsin Khan, a New Delhi-based commercial pilot, everyone gathers in the kitchen for preparations.
“All the siblings are working professionals and it is rare for us to be together. Eid is special that way. The chaos of the night before is something I cherish,” she told Arab News.
“We all are involved in making sawaian (vermicelli pudding) and kebabs and other yummies. Everyone is involved. My father usually cuts the dry fruits. As his father did before him.”
Further south, in Sri Lanka, where 2 million Muslims make up 10 percent of the country’s predominantly Buddhist population, families also come together for Eid.
“Eid Al-Adha holds a profound place in the hearts of Muslims and their families, transcending borders and cultural differences,” Shaziya Ihtisam Shaheer, a teacher at an international school in Colombo, told Arab News.
But this year, as the country emerges from a crippling economic crisis, the festival has an additional dimension.
“This year’s Eid Al-Adha in Sri Lanka has become a beacon of light, reminding us of the resilience and unity that underpin our collective identity,” said Shaheer.
“It symbolizes a renewed hope for brighter days.”