Islam and Muslim Holidays

Islamic Religion and Philosophy

The religion and philosophy of Islam is based on the belief that Allah (God in English) sent the prophet Muhammad with the final message, “May peace and blessing of Allah be upon all of you.” The Qur’an is the book Allah revealed to Muhammad and is considered to be the word or literal recitation of Allah. Followers of Islam, or Muslims, believe in the Five Pillars of Islam as they are expressed in the Qur’an. The Five Pillars of Islam are practical duties that direct:

  1. Shahadah — the profession of faith — the basis for belief in Islam is found in the Shahadatan (“two statements”): La ilaha illahallah (“there is no god but God”) and Muhammad-ur rasul-ullah (“Muhammad is the messenger of God”);
  2. Shalah — ritual prayer five times a day;
  3. Sawm — fasting during the month of Ramadan (for those who can physically);
  4. Zakat — almsgiving by those who enjoy a certain standard of living as charity to benefit those in need and society in general; and,
  5. Hajj — pilgrimage to Mecca (for those who can financially and physically).

Islam, the world’s second largest religion, is a monotheistic religion. The fundamental concept in Islam is the oneness of Allah. Muslims assert belief in the same deity as Judeo-Christian religions, but disagree with the concept of the trinity — God, Son, and Holy Ghost — which Muslims perceive as polytheism. In Islam, Judaism and Christianity are seen as religions received from Allah, and followers of Judaism and Christianity are seen as the People of the Book (the Torah and the Bible).

Muslims have six core beliefs:

  1. the belief in Allah — the creator of the universe and everything in it;
  2. the belief in Angels — angels exist and interact with human lives; angels are comprised of light, and each have different purposes or messages to bring to earth; each person has two angels who record their actions; one angel records the person’s good deeds, the other angel records the person’s bad deeds;
  3. the belief in Scripture — there are four inspired books, the Torah of Moses, the Psalms (Zabin) of David, the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Injil) and the Qur'an; all but the Qur'an have been interpreted and changed by Jews and Christians; the Qur’an is the literal word of Allah;
  4. the belief in Prophets — Allah (God) has spoken through numerous prophets throughout time; the six greatest prophets are: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad; Muhammad is the last and greatest of Allah's messengers;
  5. the belief the belief in Qadar (Fate); and,
  6. the belief in the Qiyamah (the Day of Judgment) and in the Resurrection.

Islamic Calendar

The Islamic calendar has 12 months (354-355 days). Because it is based on a lunar calendar the dates of important holidays change from year to year. The Islamic calendar is also called the Hijri (“migration”) calendar because the first year of the calendar is marked by the migration of the prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Al-Madina. The current year in the Hijiri calendar, which will end on or about December 28, 2009, is 1430 H.

Islamic Holidays

Jumu’ah (Friday) Prayer: “Yom ul-Jumuah” or “Day of the Gathering”

Jumu’ah is observed every week on Friday. This should not be confused with the notion of a “Sabbath” as Muslims do not believe that Allah rested after creation. It is believed that devotional acts done on Jumu’ah gain a higher reward.

Ramadan: “Month of the Qur’an”

Tentative beginning date for Ramadan 1430 H is Aug. 21 or 22, 2009 (depending on the sighting of the moon)

Ramadan falls in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims believe it was during this month, around 610 C.E., that Allah revealed the first verses of the Qur’an to the prophet Muhammad. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast (abstain from food, drink, and sex) from dawn until sundown. Fasting is intended to teach humility, patience, self-restraint, and to remind Muslims of their good fortune and, therefore, that they should help those who are less fortunate. Fasting is also understood to cleanse the body and, therefore, to help Muslims find the peace that is said come with spiritual devotion and kinship with fellow believers. After sundown on the last day of Ramadan, Eid ul-Fitr begins.

Eid ul-Fitr: “The Celebration of Breaking the Fasting” or “The Smaller Eid”

Tentative starting date for 2009: Sept. 20 or 21

Eid ul-Fitr, a three-day celebration, marks the end of Ramadan as the month of fasting. On the first day of Eid ul-Fitr, Muslims have a small breakfast (as a sign of no longer being on a fast) that usually includes dates. Next, Muslims attend Salah (a special Eid prayer) that is performed in mosques or open areas. Muslims are encouraged to dress in their best clothes (new if possible) to attend the prayer. Salah is followed by the Khutbah (sermon), and then by Dua' (a supplication) or the asking for forgiveness, mercy, and consideration for all people in the world. It is then customary to embrace and greet people praying on either side of you. After Salah, people visit and give gifts to their relatives, friends, and acquaintances, extend charity to those in need, and visit graveyards.
Greetings: "Eid Mubarak" or "A Blessed Eid"

The Hajj: “Pilgrimage to the Mecca”

Tentative starting date for 2009: Nov. 25 or 26

The Hajj begins on the 8th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the lunar Islamic calendar. The Hajj or Pilgrimage to Mecca (Makkah), is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world, and, as the fifth pillar of Islam, is an obligation that must be carried out at least once in a lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. Muslims undertake the Hajj as a demonstration of solidarity in their faith and of submission to Allah. At Mecca, a series of faith rituals are performed — each Muslim: 1) walks counter-clockwise seven times about the Kaaba, the cube-shaped building which acts as the Muslim direction of prayer; 2) kisses the Black Stone in the corner of the Kaaba; 3) runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah; 4) drinks from the Zamzam Well; 5) goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil; and, 6) throws stones in a ritual Stoning of the Devil.

The Hajj is associated with the life of Muhammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca stretches back thousands of years to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham).

Eid ul-Adha: “The Feast of the Sacrifice” or “The Greater Eid”

Tentative dates for 2009: Nov. 27 or 28th

Eid ul-Adha, a four-day celebration, begins on the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, also the day after Muslims conducting the Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca) descend from Mount Arafat, and approximately 70 days after the end of the month of Ramadan.

Eid ul-Adha honors the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) for his willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael (Ismail), to prove his obedience to Allah. Convinced of Ibrahim’s loyalty, Allah sacrificed a ram in Ishmael’s place.

For the Eid ul-Adha feast, Muslims present an animal (usually and cow or sheep) for sacrificed as a show of gratitude to Allah for sparing Ismail’s life. The sacrificed animal is divided into thirds: one-third is given to the person who presents the animal, one-third is given to the relatives of the person who presents the animal, and one-third is given to the poor and/or needy.