Major Islamic Holidays

Learn about celebrations for Muslims around the world. This reference reviews major Islamic holidays and notes the dates they are observed in North America.
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Celebrations for Muslims around the world

by Borgna Brunner

Ramadan 33cent Stamp

This U.S. postage stamp commemorates the two major Islamic festivals, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Eid means festival.

Muharram (1 Muharram)
The Islamic New Year

The month of Muharram marks the beginning of the Islamic liturgical year. The Islamic year begins on the first day of Muharram, and is counted from the year of the Hegira (anno Hegirae) the year in which Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina (A.D. July 16, 622).

The Islamic new year is celebrated relatively quietly, with prayers and readings and reflection upon the hegira.

Mawlid al-Nabi (12 Rabi 1)
Prophet Muhammad's Birthday

This holiday celebrates the birthday of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. It is fixed as the 12th day of the month of Rabi I in the Islamic calendar. Mawlid means birthday of a holy figure and al-Nabi means prophet.

The day is commemorated with recollections of Muhammad's life and significance. Fundamentalist Muslims, such as the Wahhabi sect, do not celebrate it.

Eid al-Fitr (1 Shawwal)
The Celebration concluding Ramadan

Ramadan, the month of fasting, ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Literally the "Festival of Breaking the Fast," Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (Eid al-Adha is the other). At Eid al-Fitr people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.

A sense of generosity and gratitude colors these festivities. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques.

Eid al-Adha (10 Dhu'l-Hijjah)
The celebration concluding the Hajj

Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, commemorates the prophet Abraham's willingness to obey Allah by sacrificing his son Ishmael. According to the Qu'ran, just before Abraham sacrificed his son, Allah replaced Ishmael with a ram, thus sparing his life.

One of the two most important Islamic festivals, Eid al-Adha begins on the 10 day of Dhu'l-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Lasting for three days, it occurs at the conclusion of the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims all over the world celebrate, not simply those undertaking the hajj, which for most Muslims is a once-a-lifetime occurrence.

The festival is celebrated by sacrificing a lamb or other animal and distributing the meat to relatives, friends, and the poor. The sacrifice symbolizes obedience to Allah and its distribution to others is an expression of generosity, one of the five pillars of Islam.

In the Year of the Hegira
A.H. 1436A.H. 1437
(Islamic New Year)
Oct. 25, 2014 Oct. 15, 2015
Mawlid al-Nabi
(Muhammad's Birthday)
Jan. 3, 2015 Dec. 23, 2015
Ramadan begins
June 18, 2015 June 6, 2016
Eid al-Fitr
(Ramadan ends)
July 17, 2015 July 5, 2016
Eid al-Adha
(Festival of Sacrifice)
Sept. 23, 2015 Sept. 11, 2016

NOTE: The Islamic calendar is based on lunar observation; thus, the above dates may vary by one or two days. Dates apply to North America.

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