Lasting four days, Hari Raya Haji commemorates Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) complete faith and trust in God.
This is recounted in the story of God commanding Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail (Ishmael), a commandment that Ibrahim responded to with obedience. God stopped him, and provided him with a sheep to substitute as a sacrifice, instead of his son.
During this period, the faithful dress in their finest clothes and congregate in mosques to listen to sermons and offer their prayers.
But the most important ritual observed here is that of ‘korban‘ (sacrifice). Worshippers contribute live sheep, lambs, goats and cows, which are slaughtered by a quick slit to the jugular as prayers are recited.
This act reminds worshippers of the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim to offer up even his own flesh and blood to God. The animal is then cleaned and the meat carved up and distributed.
The tradition is that the person who paid for the animal gets one-third of the meat and one-third goes to family and friends. As this festival is about compassion, sharing wealth and remembering blessings, the last third is usually distributed to the poor and the needy.
After this, Muslims pay social visits to parents, families and friends, and relax over a meal together.
There is little overt feasting or merrymaking—this is one festival that is more about spiritual needs than physical ones.
Hari Raya Haji also marks the end of ‘hajj’, which is the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. This arduous journey retraces the steps of the Prophet Muhammed and concludes with a series of symbolic rituals once the faithful have reached the holy city. The ‘hajj’ is considered the fifth pillar of Islam, and every able-bodied Muslim with financial means is expected to complete it at least once in his or her life.