The Feasts Of Islam


A solar year is made up of 365 days and a quarter. Islam uses a calendar with 12 lunar months. This results in a year approximately 11 days shorter. Consequently the months and feasts move forward by this time. Thus each Muslim month moves around our solar year in about 33 years. And with the months move the feasts of Islam.

The Islamic Calendar

(in the sequence of the Islamic Lunar Calendar)

  1. Muharram
  2. Safar
  3. Rab'il'l-Awwal
  4. Rab'il'l-Akhir
  5. Jumada'l-Ula
  6. Jumada'l-Ukhra
  7. Rajab
  8. Sh'ban
  9. Ramadaan
  10. Shawwal
  11. Zu'l-Qu'dah
  12. Zu'l-Hijjah

The Feasts of Islam

Like Christianity, Islam has its appointed feasts. These are:


"The Tenth"

This feast day is particularly celebrated by the Shiah Muslims, for it is the day on which Khalif Hussain was slain (see 'History of Islam').

It is the only day of Muharram observed by the Sunni Muslims (Shiah celebrate the first 10 days), being the day on which it is said God created Adam and Eve, heaven and earth, the tablet of decree, the penalty, life and death. It is kept by the Sunnis as a fast.

It is a voluntary fast day observed on the tenth of the month of Muharram. It is related that Muhammad observed it and said it was a day respected by Jews and Christians.


The birthday of Muhammad, which is known as Mau-Ildu 'n-Nabi, is celebrated on the 12th of Rab'iu'l-Awwal. In certain areas, such as Lamu island on the Kenyan coast, this feast becomes the major event of the year with week-long Qur'an rezitation competitions drawing participants and spectators from near and far.


"The night of the middle of Sha'ban" (also called "Lailat al-bara'a")

On this night, Muhammad said, God registered annually all the actions of mankind which they are to perform during the year; and that all the children of men who are to be born and to die in the year are recorded. The night is often devoted to the memory of the dead.

Muhammad, it is said, enjoined his followers to keep awake the whole night, to repeat one hundred Rak'ah prayers, and to fast the next day, but there is generally great rejoicing instead of a fast.

The Shab-i-Barat may not be confused with the Lailatu'l-Qadr.


Ramadaan may be seen as a festive month of compulsory fasting (Sawm). During this month "nothing must enter the body", i.e. food, drink (including saliva), smoke (of tobacco), even an injection. Sexual activity is equally forbidden. All this is, however, only between the hours of sunrise and sunset. The Ramadaan fast has definitely a pre-Islamic history.

It is believed that fasting during Ramadaan is thirty times better than at any other time. According to tradition, during this month the gates of heaven are open and the gates of hell closed, and the devils are in chains.

Those who observe the fast with pure motives will obtain remission of their sins.


"The night of power"

A mysterious night, in the month of Ramadaan, the precise date of which is said to have been known only to the Prophet and a few of the companions. It is usually celebrated on the 27th night of Ramadaan and many Muslims believe that their sins are forgiven during this night.The following is the allusion to it in the Qur'an:

"We have indeed revealed this (message) in the Night of Power.

And what will explain to thee what the Night of Power is?

The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.

Therein come down the angels and the spirit by Allah's permission, on every errand.

Peace! ... This until the rise of Morn!"

Surah 97:1-5


"The Festival of the Breaking of the Fast", actually "The minor feast".

It commences as soon as the month's fast in Ramadaan is over, i.e. on the first day of the month of Shawwal. It is customary to visit the graves of the departed on this day.

"Ibn Abbas reported that he said in the last Ramazan: Take out alms of your fast. The Messenger of Allah made this charity compulsory. One sa'a from dried dates, or barley, or half sa'a from wheat upon every free man or slave, male or female, young or old".

Mishkat II, p. 58

(General information is taken from DICTIONARY OF ISLAM by T.P. Hughes.)



This is also called "the great festival" (as opposed to Idu'l Fitr being the "minor festival").

It is celebrated on the 10th day of Zu'l-Hijjah, and is observed in all parts of Islam both as a day of sacrifice (the "qorban") and as a great festival. It is founded on an injunction in the Qur'an (Surah 22:32-38).

"To every people did We appoint rites (of sacrifice), that they might celebrate the name of Allah over the sustenance He gave them from animals (fit for food). But your God is One God, submit then your wills to Him (in Islam) and give thou the good news to those who humble themselves.

The sacrificial camels we have made for you as amount the symbols from Allah; in them is (much) good for you; then pronounce the name of Allah over them as they line up (for sacrifice). When they are down on their sides (after slaughter). Eat ye thereof, and feed such as (beg not but) live in contentment and such as beg with due humility; thus have We made animals subject to you, that ye may be grateful.

It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him: He has thus made them subject to you, that ye may glorify Allah for His guidance to you. And proclaim the Good News to all who do right."

Surah 22:34, 36+37

The two festivals Lailatu 'n-nsif min Sha'ban and Idu'l-Adha are close to each other, and very likely to have had their origin in the Jewish tradition. The former, also called Lailat al-bara'a, is based on the Jewish New Year, which is followed by the Day of Atonement "Yom Kippur", which is closely associated with the offering of sacrifices.

According to the Jewish tradition the world was created on that day and the name "Lailat al-bara'a" means the night of creation. Actually this word (bara'a) is probably derived from the Hebrew word "beri'a" which means creation. (Extracts from HANDWOERTERBUCH DES ISLAM by Wensinck and Kramer under 'Ramadaan').

The Origin and Meaning of Sacrifices In Islam

"A few months after the Hijrah (flight from Mecca to Medina), Muhammad, living in Medina, observed that on the tenth day of the seventh month the Jews kept the great fast of the Atonement. Tradition records that the prophet asked them why they kept this fast. He was informed that it was a memorial of the deliverance of Moses and the children of Israel from the hands of Pharaoh.

"We have a greater right in Moses than they", said Muhammad. So he fasted with the Jews and commanded his followers to fast too. This was at the period of his mission, when Muhammad was friendly with the Jews of Medina, who occasionally came to hear him preach. The Prophet also occasionally attended the synagogue. Then came the change of Qibla (i.e. the direction in which to pray) from Jerusalem to Mecca, for the Jews were not so ready to change their creed as Muhammad had at first hoped. In the second year of the Hijrah, Muhammad and his followers did not participate in the Jewish fast, for Muhammad now instituted the Idu'l-Adha. The idolatrous Arabs had been in the habit of making an annual pilgrimage to Mecca at this season of the year.

The offering of animals in sacrifice formed a part of the concluding ceremony of that pilgrimage. That portion - the sacrificing of animals -Muhammad adopted in the feast which now, at Medina, he substituted for the Jewish fast.

This was well calculated to attract the attention of the Meccans and to gain the goodwill of the Arabs. Muhammad could not make the pilgrimage to Mecca, for as yet there was a hostile feeling between the inhabitants of the two cities; but on the tenth day of the month Zu'l-Hijjah, at the very time when the Arabs at Mecca were engaged in sacrificing victims, Muhammad went forth from his house at Medina and, assembling his followers, instituted the Idu'l-Adha. Two young kids were brought before him. One he sacrificed and said:

"O Lord! I sacrifice this for my whole people, all those who bear witness to Thy unity and to my mission. O Lord! That is for Muhammad and for the family of Muhammad".

(Note the similarity to Leviticus 16.)

There is nothing in the Qur'an to connect this sacrifice with the history of Ishmael, but it is generally held by Muslims to have been instituted in commemoration of Abraham's willingness to offer his son as a sacrifice. And Muslim writers generally maintain that the son was Ishmael and not Isaac, and that the scene took place on Mount Mina near Mecca, and not in the land of Moriah, as is stated in Genesis.

It is a notable fact that whilst Muhammad professed to abrogate the Jewish ritual, and also ignored entirely the doctrine of Atonement as taught in the New Testament, denying even the very fact of our Saviour's crucifixion, he made the "day of sacrifice" the great festival of his religion."

All the above according to "The Life of Muhammad" by W.Muir

There is a very remarkable Hadith related by Ayesha:

"Ayesha reported that the Apostle of Allah said: The son of Adam does not do anything of the actions of the day of sacrifice which is more pleasing to Allah than the shedding of blood, and he will come on the Resurrection Day with its hairs, horns and hoofs; and the blood certainly falls in a place near Allah before it falls down on the ground. So make yourself purified therewith".

Mishkat III, p. 490

Muhammad has thus become a witness to the doctrine of the Christian faith that "without shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin", although he probably did not understand the implication and so this doctrine is rejected by Islam.

The animals sacrificed must be without blemish, and of full age; but it may be either a goat, a sheep, a cow or a camel.

The expectation which accompanies sacrifices is expressed in this part of a sermon:

"'If you sacrifice a fat animal it will serve you well, and carry you across the Sirat (i.e. bridge over hell to Paradise). O Believers, thus said the Prophet, on whom be the mercy and peace of Allah, 'Sacrifice the victim with your own hands, this was the Sunnah of Ibrahim, on whom be peace'.

'O Believer, if ye do so, Allah will pardon the sins of fifty years which are past and of fifty years to come. The reading of the Surahs is equal, as an act of merit, to the reading of all the books Allah has sent by his prophets'.

'May Allah include us amongst those who are accepted by Him, who act according to the Law, whose desire will be granted at the Last Day. To all such there will be no fear on the Day of Resurrection; no sorrow in the examination at the Day of Judgement. The best of all books is the Qur'an. O Believers! May Allah give to us and to you a blessing for ever, by the grace of the Noble Qur'an. May its verses be our guide, and may its wise mention of Allah direct us right. I desire that Allah may pardon all believers, male and female, the Muslimin and Muslimat. O Believers, also seek for pardon. Truly Allah is the Forgiver, the Merciful, the Eternal King, the Compassionate, the Clement. O Believer, the Khutbah (= sermon) is over'.

The Khutbah being ended, the people all returned to their homes. The head of the family then takes a sheep, or a cow, or a goat or camel, and turning its head towards Mecca says:

'In the name of the great Allah. Verily, my prayers, my sacrifice, my life, my death, belong to Allah, the Lord of the worlds. He has no partner: that is what I am bidden!'

And then he slays the animal. The flesh of the animal is then divided into three portions, one third being given to relatives, one third to the poor, and the remaining third reserved for the family. Quite apart from its religious ceremonies, the festival is observed as a great time of rejoicing, and the holiday is kept for two or three days in a similar way to that of the minor festival or the "Idul'l-Fitr".

"Dictionary of Islam", p. 194

It is surely no coincidence that Idu'l Adha falls year after year on the same day (or very close to it) of the Jewish "Yom Kippur", the "Day of Atonement" as prescribed in Leviticus 16.


Recommended Literature for Chapter 7:

A Call to Witness, LCA 1996, 41 pages.

The Christian Witness to the Muslim, John Gilchrist, Jesus to the Muslims 1988, 412 pages.