The Meaning of Eid for the Ummah

Photo by Al-Jazeera English

The Hajj, the fifth pillar in Islam, rightly serves as the culminating experience for a Muslim’s spiritual journey in life and the struggle with which it is associated. Following the rights of Hajj, believers all around the world celebrate Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, meaning that which regularly returns. What is the meaning of Eid to the Muslim Ummah? What is it that we are celebrating? And how best to translate the struggles and sacrifices associated with Hajj (and Islam in general) into daily practice?

Answering these critical questions calls for a deeper understanding of Hajj and its relations to the temporary human predicament on earth. Then after, we might be able to draw the needed meaning of Eid al-Adha. Indeed, per Islamic understandings of the Qur’an and Hadith, the rights of Hajj date back to Adam and Eve’s first days on earth since both were guided to the exact location of the Ka’aba– the Sacred House, by God Himself, to serve as a site for humankind to reconnect with the Divine after the banishment from paradise.

The Qur’anic narrative mentions Adam and Eve’s banishment for eating from the forbidden tree to be sent down to the earthly realm. However, from a deeper spiritual examination, the real consequence can be located not in the loss of the materiality of paradise, rather it is in the essence of spatial distance from God. How the Hajj fits into the human mission on earth and what the Eid represents for the Muslim Ummah at this time, is directly connected to the constant human distance from God. This being through forgetfulness, heedlessness, and attachment to the material world. Hajj and Eid represent the call for an intentional and conscious return to the One and only God and then to open a new chapter in one’s own life.

In the midst of difficulties, trauma, and struggle God is calling on the human being out of love and concern for his wellbeing and an emphasis on re-centering mankind to fulfill his purpose in creation, a custodian to express the infinite mercy of the All-Merciful. Just as God forgave Adam and Eve for their transgression in the heavens and guided them to the Mount of Arafat, the Mount of Mercy, He is ever-merciful and forgiving of those who call on Him and especially during the Sacred Days of Hajj.

Another dimension of Hajj and the Eid is the symbolic reenactment and the following in the footsteps of Prophets Abraham and Ishmael, as well as, the struggles and sacrifices of Hagar, Ishmael’s mother. The Abrahamic Qur’anic narrative represents the essence of God’s love for the human being. What we can see in Abraham and Hagar’s narrative is God’s protection toward His righteous servants, patience with the human being in the struggle to uphold the truth, constant guidance, and eventual spiritual attainment despite the monumental temporal challenges.

Eid is symbolic of the believer’s journey toward God to admit wrong, take responsibility, and seek forgiveness. Then to return into the world anew, unburdened by the heaviness of past transgressions and the state of forgetfulness. God loves those who return to Him and those who are in constant remembrance. Likewise, God calls on the human being to repent and seek forgiveness because He is the all-merciful and oft-forgiving, which means transgression is the human condition in need of a remedy by a return to God in a state of humility.

The struggle and suffering of Muslims in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Libya, Somalia, Myanmar, Yemen, and Central African Republic as well as the ravages of Islamophobia in Europe and North America calls on all of us on Eid to return to God in unity. Suffering and struggle is part of the human condition but the challenge is to work toward the self and the collective transformation by holding tight on “God’s rope” and to be the guiding light in the midst of darkness. The annual Eid represents the purposeful actualization of holding tight on the Divine rope of guidance and celebrating the witnessing of this metaphysical reality.

We might not be able to ameliorate the horrific conditions of our brothers and sisters across the world, but we can rest assure that our calling on the Divine has a metaphysical reality that is more real than the contingent reality we experience. As those who performed Hajj represented in deeds and actions the singularity of humanity by going around the Ka’aba, running through the Safa and Marwa, and standing on the Mount of Mercy– it is imperative for every Muslim to replicate the purposeful turn toward God and the unity it represents.

God loves humanity with Hajj and Eid serving to crystalize the vast and never diminishing Divine reservoir of forgiveness, generosity, and mercy toward humankind. The Eid of the Sacrifice is correctly named to reflect Abraham and Ishmael’s readiness to totally submit to the will of God. However, another aspect and just as significant is God’s intervention to rescue Ishmael and by extension and symbolically all of the human beings. Eid for the Muslim Ummah represents the abode of Divine love, mercy, and belief of His intervention to guide and protect those who embody steadfastness, struggle, sacrifice, and service to others in their journey in the world.

What the Eid means for the Muslim Ummah is a deep realization that God is present with us at all times and in all circumstances. God is present and witnesses what is underway with the Syrians, Palestinians, Afghan, Somalis, African Americans, Native Americans, Libyans, Rohingya, and Yemenis. God was with His servants on the Bosphorus Bridge, and in cities and towns across Turkey. God is with His servants in all these places and the Syrians in particular, those in the refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, or those who rode the waves of the Mediterranean to arrive onto solid land. More importantly, all those who died are presently in the Divine presence and remembered in the days of the Eid.

Eid is to announce and declare in joyous voice across the globe that God is here with the human being ready to embrace and welcome those who repent, struggle, sacrifice, serve, and love for no other reason than to reflect Divine purpose. Arriving at Hajj in unity, reflected in the mode of dress, and actions in unison, despite diversity, is the critical lesson for the Muslim Ummah and Eid is the right occasion for actualizing this in daily life. Unity with diversity and readiness to sacrifice for a higher purpose is the meaning of Eid for the Muslim Ummah and today is the time to actualize it in intention and deeds.