Since Muslims are required to pray five times daily while facing the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, it can be said that each day is an Islamic day of worship. There are, however, select holidays during which special rituals and practices take place. Many are based on significant historical occurrences and birthdays of important Islamic figures, in particular the Prophet Muhammad whose divine revelations are the basis of Islam.
The Muslim calendar is based on lunar cycles, and Ramadan, a word whose root means "to be hot," is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. Due to the nature of lunar cycles, Ramadan takes place on a different month of the Gregorian calendar each year (as do all Muslim holidays). During Ramadan, Muslims go through a purification of the body and soul by abstaining from food, drink, and sex (bodily pleasures) during daylight hours. Observing this fast is the fourth Pillar of Islam, a series of duties that all Muslims must adhere to that includes profession of faith, five daily prayers, alms giving and a pilgrimage to Mecca. Ramadan is particularly important because it was in this month that the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have received his first divine revelations. The end of Ramadan is marked by a small feast called 'Id al-Fitr.
Rabi' al-Awwal 12 - The Prophet's Birthday
Muslims believe that, during a spiritual retreat to the nearby mountains of Mecca, a trader named Muhammad heard the voice of Allah (God) through the angel Gabriel's voice. This divine revelation would lead to a series of communications between Muhammad and the Creator in which he received instructions on righteousness. Muhammad spread these teachings amongst his people, thus creating the new religion of Islam and giving him the holy title of Prophet. Every year on the twelfth day of the Islamic month of Rabi' al-Awwal, Muslims around the world celebrate Mawlid al-nabi, the Prophet Muhammad's birthday. Festivities include feasts, exchanging gifts and the recounting of Muhammad's righteousness, bravery, and leadership demonstrated through an honorable life. Men and boys often wear green on this day because it was said to have been Muhammad's favorite color.
Dhu l-Hijja 8-13 - Pilgrimage to Mecca
The fifth Pillar of Islam states that all Muslims must make at least one pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca if they physically and financially able. Beginning on the eighth day of the month Dhu l-Hijja and lasting until the thirteenth. The hajj consists of pilgrims visiting several holy sites in imitation of Muhammad's final pilgrimage. This movement includes seven ambulations around the Kaaba, a cubic structure built by Abraham and Ismael housing a meteorite, as well as visits to the Well of Zemzem, Arafat, the tent city of Mina, Safa, and Maqam Ibrahim (Station of Abraham.) The pilgrimage is a time of intense prayer and reflection but is also meant to create unity among Muslims by providing a once-in-a-lifetime holy experience.
Dhu l-Hijja 10 - The Feast of Sacrifice
The tenth day of Dhu l-Hijja occurs during the hajj but is of such great importance that it must be discussed separately. Known as 'Id al-adha, or The Feast of Sacrifice (also The Greater Feast), it is the anniversary of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, Ismael, upon Allah's request. The Holy Quran, Islam's scripture, recounts that upon being informed of his father's decision Ismael said, "O, my father, do as you are commanded." (Quran 37:102.) As they prepared to carry out the sacrifice, Allah intervened and rewarded Abraham with a lamb to sacrifice instead. This holiday is celebrated with the slaughter of lambs and a subsequent distribution of meat to the poor. Employers also give their workers monetary gifts.
- Lindsay, James E. "Daily Life in the Islamic Medieval World." (2005.) London: Greenwood Press.
- Bowen, Donna Lee and Early, Evelyn A. (2002.) "Everyday Life in the Muslim Middle East." Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press
- Bloom, Jonathan and Blair, Sheila. (2002.) "Islam." London: Yale University Press.
- Qur'an (37:102).
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