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Eid ul Hajj (also known as Eid-al-Adha or Eid al-Kabir) is the high point of the hajj season when many Muslims go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. The second celebratory feast of the Muslims is this feast of sacrifice, and Zanzibaris celebrate this three-day event with fervour. As the name implies, the importance of this festival lies in the sacrificing of certain animals as a commemoration of the prophet Ibraham (Abraham).
The marking of Eid al-Adha celebrates Ibrahim’s willingness to obey God by sacrificing his own son. Told by God to sacrifice his most valued possession, he came to realise that the dream meant he had to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. When told of the dream, Ishmael said he must do as commanded. When the blindfolded Ibrahim took up a knife and made the sacrifice a voice from heaven told him to look down, and he saw that instead of Ishmael lying in front of him there was a ram. Ibrahim and Ishmael had both survived their test of faith.
The visitor to Zanzibar during this festival will witness the re-enactment of Ibrahim’s obedience by the sacrificing of goats and sheep. The meat from the sacrificed animal is usually divided into thirds, with one taken by the family, a third given to neighbours and relatives with the remaining third being given to the poor. Along with prayers and sermons, the mutual visiting of friends and family, lavish meals and the giving of presents, this festival is a joyous time in Zanzibar and also marks the end of the Hajj season, where many local pilgrims return from their visit to the holy cities of Medina and Mecca.
Eid is a joyful experience and everybody is out and about celebrating. In Zanzibar the partying continues for four solid days, with many open areas around town and in the villages turning into festival venues. There is a general feeling of celebration as people go from house to house visiting friends and relatives and attend taarab concerts and discos at night. In town, the festivities can be seen at the Mnazi Moja grounds across from the National Museum or at the Kariakoo fair grounds out by the Main Post Office. Because the Muslim calendar is different from that of Christians, the dates for Eid change every year by about 10 days so check a local Islamic calendar if you’re looking to visit Zanzibar during Eid.