Islam: practices – FESTIVALS

Islamic Festivals

Eid ul-Fitr

‘Verily it is only a festival for he whose fast Allah has accepted and whose prayers he has acknowledged’ (Imam Ali)


Eid ul-Fitr is celebrated at the end of Ramadan to mark the end of fasting. It is a special occasion and Muslims in Britain are given the day off work and school. Cards are sent, new clothes worn and gifts given to family members. Time will be spent with family and the greeting ‘Eid Mubarak’ said or seen on cards. Prayers will take place and Zakah given.


Why is Eid ul Fitr important? How does it influence the life of a Muslim?
  • The significane of Eid ul Fitr is the same for both Sunni and Shia Muslims although the prayers said will vary slightly
  • Muslims have gone without food for a month so know how it feels to be hungry. Zakah should be given by Eid and the festival puts pressure on Muslims to ensure they have supported those in need. Often the names of families who have paid Zakah will be crossed off at mosque although the amount they give remains anonymous
  • The festival encourages a Muslim to reflect on what has gone before and look to the future of the coming year. Allah needs to be the focus of their life and their wealth is not their own. It is on loan from Allah to do good. This helps to promote a caring and compassionate approach to life.


Eid ul –Adha

This festival takes place within the period of the Hajj. It is also known as the Festival of the Sacrifice.

The festival dates back to when Abraham (Ibrahim) was directed to sacrifice his own son Ishmael by Allah. It is viewed as a test of faith. Allah replaced Ishmael with a ram at the last moment. The central element of the festival is the sacrifice of a lamb which called a qurbani. The meat from the lamb is split three ways – one third for the family who have paid for the sacrifice, one third to friends and neighbours and the final third to the poor. Some families pay money to charity rather than have a lamb sacrificed.


The Festival of Ashura

Both Sunni and Shia Muslims observe the festival on the tenth day of the Muslim month of Muharram. However, the reason for and way of celebrating is very different. Ashura just means ‘tenth.’


For Shia Muslims this is a very significant festival based in sorrow. It remembers the martyrdom of Hussein, the grandson of Muhammad who was killed in the battle of Karbala on 10 Muharram, 680CE along with 72 members of his family. The festival is to remember Hussein (one of the Twelve Imams) and remind Shia Muslims that they must stand up for justice and work towards a better society

  • It is a festival of terrible sadness
  • Many wear black as a sign of grief
  • Mosques are covered in black cloths
  • After afternoon prayers, poems about the tragedy are read and people will cry

Some gather to beat themselves with whips and chains in sorrow although this practice is becoming less common



When Muhammad first travelled to Medina he witnessed a group of Jews fasting. He asked them what they were doing and they explained that it was a day to remember when the Israelites were saved from Pharoah. The said that Moses fasted on that day. Muhammad also fasted and told others to do the same.

Many Sunni Muslims do fast on this day as it is viewed as a Day of Atonement, that is a day where sins are forgiven if repented. It is not compulsory in Sunni Islam to do so though.

Sunni do not accept the whipping of their bodies as many Shia Muslims did in the past.


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