Idd ul Azha, also called “Eid al Adha” (meaning “Feast of the Sacrifice”), is celebrated in Kenya every year by the 10 percent of Kenya’s people who follow Islam.
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It is particularly celebrated along the Indian Ocean coast where many of the nation’s Muslims live. Id ul Azha is the single-most important feast of the Islamic year, falling on the 10th day of the final month of the Islamic calendar (Dhu al Hijjah). The date moves on the Gregorian calendar by around 10 days per year.
The background of Id ul Azha is the Islamic account of Ibrahim willingly offering up his son Ishmael as a sacrifice before an angel intervened and stopped the hand in which he held the knife. Ishmael, along with Esau, is one of the two main forefathers of the Arab people.
Ideally, Muslims go on pilgrimage to Mecca to re-enact the sacrifice and take part in ceremonies held in the very places where the events are thought to have transpired. However, most Kenyans cannot afford to make this journey and therefore sacrifice a cow, camel, sheep, or goat in their own country. The meat is then divided in three. One part goes to the family that makes the sacrifice, another part to friends and relatives, and the final part to the poor of the community.
However, it is generally only wealthy Muslims who can sacrifice an animal. The particular kind varies largely by region, but the animals must be halal. Halal refers to the animal being sacrificed using specific Islamic rituals and being prepared according to strict dietary customs. The rich may then give portions to those who cannot afford to sacrifice their own animal.
In Kenya, celebrants of Id ul Azha dress up in their best clothes and attend prayer services at a local mosque. There, they hear a sermon extolling the virtues of sacrifice, the obedience of Ibrahim, and the examples of many others who have sacrificed themselves in some way. There is also loud chanting from the mosques during the days of Id ul Azha that alerts the community to come to prayer.
Some of the activities that locals and tourists during Id ul Azha may wish to take part in include the following:
- In Muslim areas where there is a mosque, view the solemn assembly and the mosque’s architectural features. Some of them are very impressive, and you may even be able to share some free food after the services, which worshipers are often willing to give even to non-Muslims. If you have a Muslim friend, and you feel so inclined, you could sit in on a family service often held in private homes as well.
- Why not visit some of the most breathtaking mountain peaks of Kenya? The Ngong Hills run along the edge of the Great Rift Valley to the southwest of Nairobi. You can view Nairobi National Park to the east, and enter it later if you wish, as well as view Nairobi itself to the north. To the west, you look over the Great Rift Valley 4,000 feet below. In the valley, you can see small tribal villages, and if you visit the valley, you can also see colonial-era houses still intact. A trail runs along the peaks, so you can hike for as long as you like.
- If near the coast to witness Id ul Azha events held there, you may wish to stop to explore the sea. Try touring Watamu Marine National Park, which lies 90 miles up the coast from Mombasa. There, you will find fish-filed coral reefs, whale sharks, barracuda, rays, octopus, and a beach where endangered sea turtles lay their eggs.
Should you be in Kenya for Id ul Azha, there will be a religious fervour about you and religious events you may wish to observe or take part in. There will also be opportunity to explore Kenya’s landscape and seascape, however, and create memories that will last a lifetime.