Eid Al-Adha at Al-Azhar Mosque (photo credit – Al-Azhar Mosque’s Facebook page) Eid Al-Adha at Al-Azhar Mosque (photo credit – Al-Azhar Mosque’s Facebook page)

Eid Al-Adha in Islamic Cairo: An American convert’s experience

Sat, Sep. 2, 2017
CAIRO – 2 September 2017:From the heart of Islamic Cairo, the sound of the masses praising God rang out through the cool morning air as Muslims gathered for the early morning Eid Al-Adha prayer. Donning their best attire, families, groups of students and individuals from all over the world (myself a convert from America) walked to Al-Azhar and Hussein mosques on the first day of the Eid Al-Adha holiday, known as the “Greater Eid” or the “Feast of the Sacrifice”.


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Al-Azhar Mosque (photo credit – Ibn Ata’ Allah)


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Al-Azhar Mosque (photo credit – Ibn Ata’ Allah)


Even under the ongoing construction at Al-Azhar Mosque, thousands filled the 1,000-year-old beacon of light and its courtyard. Young and old alike prayed the special Eid prayer together and then intently listened to the “khutba” (sermon) by Dr. Mahmoud Ashry.


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Eid Al-Adha at Al-Azhar Mosque (photo credit – Al-Azhar Mosque’s Facebook page)


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Eid Al-Adha at Al-Azhar Mosque (photo credit – Al-Azhar Mosque’s Facebook page)


Ashry discussed the significance of Eid Al-Adha – a celebration of Prophet Ibrahim’s devotion to God through his willingness to sacrifice his son, a sacrifice of the self’s attachment to other than God. He then reminded us of the religious laws regarding the ritual slaughter, the act largely associated with the holiday. The sheikh ended his sermon by calling upon us to “spread love, spread peace”, before beginning a series of supplications for the wellbeing of all people and the protection of Egypt.


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Dr. Mahmoud Ashry delivering the Eid Al-Adha khutba at Al-Azhar Mosque (photo credit – Al-Azhar Mosque’s Facebook page)


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Dr. Mahmoud Ashry delivering the Eid Al-Adha khutba at Al-Azhar Mosque (photo credit – Ibn Ata’ Allah)


Following the sermon, congregants flocked to greet the preacher, who patiently shook the hands and kissed the cheeks of each one. Another Azhari scholar, Dr. Mohammad Mehanna, a prominent teacher of Sufism, sat nearby, greeting and talking with people as they kissed his hand, a traditional sign of respect and admiration. After I kissed Mehanna’s hand, he asked where I was from and then prayed for my success in my studies.


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Dr. Mahmoud Ashry greeting congregants at Al-Azhar Mosque on Eid Al-Adha (photo credit – Ibn Ata’ Allah)


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Dr. Mohammad Mehanna greeting congregants at Al-Azhar Mosque on Eid Al-Adha (photo credit – Ibn Ata’ Allah)


As people exited the mosque, they exchanged greetings and embraced, before heading home or to slaughter an animal. Camels, cows, sheep, or goats are slaughtered, with sheep being the most common. Local, pop-up butchers set up on the ancient, narrow, windy streets of Islamic Cairo in order to fulfill the demand from all the sacrifices, while some families butcher the meat themselves on their roofs.


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Sheep waiting to be sacrificed (taken from Egypt Today


For the poor, Eid Al-Adha is especially meaningful, as it is one of the few times during the year that they are able to eat meat. It is recommended that when someone slaughters an animal for the holiday, they keep a third of the meat, give a third to family, friends and neighbors, and give a third to the poor. In this way, everyone is able to truly celebrate, no matter their circumstances. It is also a showing of piety and concern for the community. Indeed, God states in the Quran, in verse 37 of Surat al-Hajj (Chapter 22): {Their meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you}.



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Quranic verse – Surat al-Hajj (Chapter 22, verse 37) (taken from Islaahi Advices


As Eid is largely spent with family, and friends in Egypt are really just an extension of family, I spent the afternoon with an Egyptian friend of mine. After his family slaughtered a sheep, his sisters cooked us “fattah”, the quintessential meal for Eid Al-Adha. It consists of toasted pita bread, rice, broth, a garlicky tomato sauce and meat; by far one of my favorite Egyptian meals. Following the meal, we drank tea and talked for a while, before the food coma set in, much like what happens in the U.S. after the Thanksgiving meal.



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Egyptian Fattah (photo credit – Ibn Ata’ Allah)


The next few days are also celebrated. Many will get together with friends, going to the famous Moezz Street, Khan al-Khalili, Hussein Mosque, Azhar Park, or elsewhere around Cairo. It is also common for families to go to the cemeteries to visit their deceased loved ones. For Sufis, it is the various “Awliya” (saints) and Ahl al-Bayt (descendants of the Prophet Muhammad) entombed throughout the ancient city who are visited; their saintly lives remembered. It is believed that there is a special spiritual energy filled with blessings surrounding these places, due to the souls resting there and God’s love for them and for those who love them. Egypt’s many “tariqas” (Sufi orders) gather together for processions to the different tombs, singing the praises of God, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), his family and the saintly exemplars of Islam.


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Moezz Street (photo credit – Ibn Ata’ Allah)


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Azhar Park (photo credit – Ibn Ata’ Allah)


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Quranic inscription at the mosque and tomb of the 18th century Muslim scholar Imam Ahmed al-Dardir in Islamic Cairo; {Verily, for the saints of Allah, there is no fear, nor do they grieve} “Surat Yunus” (Chapter 10, verse 62) (photo credit – Ibn Ata’ Allah)


While Eid in America is largely secluded to small, concentrated communities, the holiday is manifest throughout Cairo, with the entire population, both Muslim and Christian, taking part in the festivities. The people and cultural traditions, mixed with Egypt’s vibrant Islamic history and sites, make Eid Al-Adha here truly an amazing experience and a model for Muslims all over the world. No matter what your religious beliefs are, experiencing Eid in Egypt must definitely be added to your bucket list.
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