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Celebrating the sociocultural heritage of Eid al-Adha in every Arab country doesn’t overshadow the economic and security factors.
Eid al-Adha, also known as the Feast of Sacrifice, encompasses diverse rituals, expressions of joy and revered traditions. It holds immense significance as a special occasion shared by Arab countries.
Although certain customs and rituals of Eid are similar across many Arab countries, the celebrations have distinctive characteristics that reflect each country’s unique culture and customs.
Each Arab country has infused the celebration of Eid al-Adha with its own special touch, drawing inspiration from its societal and historical heritage.
By that, it transforms the Eid into a grand communal event adorned with the vibrant colours of new clothes and filled with the radiant smiles of both adults and children.
Kleicha is the treat most commonly exchanged in Iraq during Eid al-Adha. This delectable treat comes with various stuffings, such as date and walnut. Notably, there is a resemblance between Iraqi kleicha and the Maamoul, which is traditionally served during Eid al-Adha in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine.
Layla Salem, a resident of Baghdad, shared her insights with Fanack regarding the process of making kleicha. She describes, “On the eve of Eid, family members take turns kneading the dough by hand. The dough is left to rest for approximately two hours. One of the most important rituals while preparing the kleicha is the family gathering around the table, moulding the dough into small artistic shapes. It brings about the happiest moments.”
Layla adds, “The preparations span several hours, continuing until dawn. Yet, no one feels tired or bored.”
During Eid, families compete with each other by decorating and designing their kleicha in creative ways.
During these festive days, the Iraqi breakfast table often includes kahi and kaymak. Kahi is a delicate pastry reminiscent of Egyptian feteer meshaltet, while kaymak is a rich and high-fat Iraqi cream.
Egypt is renowned for its unique and joyful celebrations of Eid al-Adha. Visiting graces is a prominent tradition passed down from ancient ancestors. Egyptians traditionally visit the graves of their deceased loved ones to offer their Eid felicitations, either on the Day of Arafah or the day following the first day of Eid. Mohammed Mansour, a resident of Cairo, explains that Egyptians typically avoid visiting graves on the first day of Eid.
Another distinctive custom is the use of the sacrificial animal’s blood to stamp walls and cars at the slaughter site by dipping one’s hands into the blood. Ahmed Ezz Eddin, a resident of Damietta, shares, “Egyptians personally perform the animal ritual sacrifice in front of their homes. It has become customary for the person carrying out the sacrifice to stain their hand with blood and leave prints on walls to protect against envy.”
In certain regions of Egypt, particularly impoverished areas, people follow the animal’s trail of blood to claim their portion. They, too, apply henna to the animal’s forehead and perfume and decorate the animal. This is a widespread custom in Upper Egypt. Algerians adhere to a similar practice to display the sacrificial animal in its finest appearance.
Especially in villages, many other notable customs exist, such as the application of perfumes before the Eid prayer and the distribution of the entire sacrificial animal’s meat to the poor.
Yassin Toufala, a resident of Meknes, highlights that Eid for Moroccans starts by attending the prayer. Moroccans wear traditional festive attire decorated with distinctive Moroccan patterns and ornaments. They gather for the Takbeers before heading to the streets and public squares to partake in the celebrations.
However, what distinguishes Eid al-Adha in Morocco is the ritual of Boujloud, as it is known in Meknes.
During this ritual, individuals wrap themselves in goat or sheep skins or akin costumes. They wear colourful masks and join a group of similarly dressed people. Together, they parade through the city in straight lines, accompanied by the rhythmic beats of drums and songs specifically for the occasion. Although it may be busy and loud, the people of Meknes warmly embrace this tradition. People offer sweets, money and even portions of their sacrificial animals as rewards for the joy these young individuals bring.
On the other hand, Maryam Taher, a university student from Agadir, emphasises that Morocco’s diverse and unique Eid al-Adha dishes set it apart from other Arab countries. She adds, “One of the most distinctive dishes is qadeed, slices of sun-dried meat in our dialect, which we savour alongside Moroccan tea, unparalleled in the entire world.”
Despite Yemen‘s challenging economic and living conditions, Yemenis uphold the tradition of gifting Asb during the days of Eid. Asb refers to the money or valuable gifts given to women and children by male family members as a symbol of congratulations and blessings during reciprocal visits. It is also offered to children and female neighbours and friends.
Khaled Ziyad, a resident of Sana’a, explains, “Asb brings joy to the hearts of children and women. It serves as a gesture to renew and strengthen relationships within families. What matters more than the value of Asb itself is family members gathering and exchanging visits and greetings.”
For many Yemeni women, Eid al-Adha is a highly anticipated occasion as they benefit from the money they receive from visitors throughout the holiday. The money is used to purchase clothes, gold and essential items. Those facing challenging circumstances rely on Asb to meet their basic needs.
Somaya Ali, a resident of Ibb, shares her experience in this regard, saying, “I have three brothers, and their financial situation used to be better than it is now. They have always supported me in times of need. Thanks to the amounts they gave me during holidays and other visits, I could afford many necessities beyond my capabilities due to my husband’s limited income.
In the past, I would use Asb to purchase furniture and jewellery. However, as some of my brothers’ businesses have closed due to the difficult situation, the amounts they give have decreased, and now I have to prioritise essential items.”
The name of the tradition may vary from one city to another in Yemen. In some governorates, it is called Awada or Eidiyah. This cherished tradition has become an integral part of Yemeni folk heritage.
Sudanese people engage in unique and distinct rituals during Eid al-Adha, also known as the Great Eid. The festivities typically begin with family members gathering at the home of a senior family member, such as a grandfather, grandmother, father or mother.
Sudanese men wear new white robes and turbans as they head out to perform the Eid prayer. Upon their return, accompanied by their children, they exchange greetings with neighbours and relatives in the neighbourhood.
Mohsen Abdel-Hay, a resident of Khartoum, says, “Eid al-Adha celebrations commence as hundreds of men, women and children take to the streets on the Arafah day. Leading the way are popular folk groups, captivating everyone with their traditional dances and movements. Subsequently, people joyfully stroll along the main streets, celebrating the arrival of the holiday. This tradition is known as Zafet al-Eid.”
Drinking the popular Sudanese beverage, sharbout, is another delightful tradition of Eid al-Adha in Sudan. Sharbout is prepared by soaking dates in water and adding various spices. It is prepared several days prior to Eid and is believed to aid digestion.
Ibtihal Shawish, a resident of al-Qadarif, describes this tradition, “During Eid, many Sudanese people drink sharbout after the typically hearty lunch. The history of sharbout dates back hundreds of years and originated in northern Sudan, from where it gradually spread to other parts of the country.”
There are many similarities between the Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha customs in Saudi Arabia. However, specific popular dishes feature Eid al-Adha in the Kingdom. These dishes vary from one city to another, as Abdulrahman Ali, a resident of Jeddah, told Fanack.
He explains, “One of the distinctive features of Saudi Arabia is the communal Eid breakfast in the southern villages. All members of the village, neighbourhood, or district gather, and everyone brings a homemade dish the wife has prepared before or after the sacrifice.”
He adds, “In addition to popular and heritage events usually organised and supervised by the regional authorities, there are also the folk dances in the villages of Jizan.”
Many Palestinian customs resemble other Arab customs during Eid al-Adha. The Israeli occupation, however, has put a damper on the joy of the Palestinians by imposing checkpoints at the gates of al-Aqsa Mosque and closing the Rafah border crossing during the occasion. For those Palestinians who insist on offering the Eid prayer in al-Aqsa Mosque, the Israeli restrictions may result in injuries.
Mohammed al-Najjar, a resident of Gaza, shares his experience, saying, “Every Eid, I spend it waiting in front of the Rafah crossing, hoping they’d let me cross to visit my relatives in Egypt. I return home every Eid feeling disappointed and broken.”
Despite the Israeli restrictions, many Palestinians insist on celebrating the occasion inside occupied Palestine. They visit graves, make Eid cookies and create an atmosphere of joy and happiness. In Gaza, it is tradition to prepare a special type of cookie called Asawer, made from flour and date paste. Children eagerly line up to greet visiting uncles, aunts and acquaintances, awaiting their Eidiyahs or Eid cash gifts.
Common Arab Rituals
All Arab countries have their own customs and rituals. However, many rituals are similar across Arab countries due to a shared history, common language and largely similar traditions.
Before all else, there is the offering of the sacrificial animal in Eid, a common tradition between Arab and Islamic countries. On this day, Muslims sacrifice a sheep, goat or cow in line with specific guidelines. Two-thirds of the sacrificial animal is then distributed to the poor on the first day of Eid.
Cleaning the house is an essential step connected to the joy of Eid. Some families move furniture around in the guest room, making them feel happy. Families also warmly welcome Eid by buying new clothes, especially for the children.
Eid cookies or the other various types of hospitality treats such as fruits, chocolates, nuts and coffee, which may have different shapes and names from one country to another, are considered important aspects that reflect Arab generosity and hospitality. Arabs take pride in preparing and offering these items during the Eid celebration.