Happy Eid Al-Adha!

IMG_4310It seems that the so called second Eid or Eid Al-Adha has come around very quickly after the long summer break. However who doesn’t enjoy a few days off?

The official moon-sighting body in Saudi rang in the twelfth and final month  in the Islamic calendar (Dhu al-Hijjah or Month of the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca) when the  crescent was sighted on 14. September. This also determined that Eid Al-Adha will start on Thursday, September 24th. So earlier this week Bahrain confirmed that ministries, government departments and public institutions will be closed from Arafat Day tomorrow (Wednesday, 23rd September) until Monday, 28th. This means that the kids will be off school but not necessarily all parents will be given the same time off if they are working in the private sector. And for those whose husbands work in Saudi it might mean that they have the whole week off.

So what are Muslims all around the world celebrating?

First things first, tomorrow is not the Eid. It is however the Islamic Holy Day called ‘Arafat Day’. This day marks the second day of the Hajj pilgrimage and the day when Muslim pilgrims will make their way to Mount Arafat where Prophet Muhammad gave one of his last famous semons in the final year of his life. Some Muslims will be fasting on that day.

The day after, one of the most important celebrations in Islam the three-day Eid al-Adha celebrations commences. ‘Eid’ in Arabic means celebration and ‘Eid al-Adha’ is the ‘Festival or Celebration of Sacrifice’.

It commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim (also known as Abraham) to follow Allah’s (God’s) command to sacrifice his son Ishmael (also known as Isaac). Some of you might also have come across this story in the Old Testament and so will know that instead of his son, Abraham sacrificed a ram. This is where the custom has come from for Muslims to sacrifice an animal, usually a goat or a sheep. The meat is then divided into three parts: one part for the family, one for friends and relatives, and the final part for the poor and needy. Eid Al Adha is an important time for charity, and those who can afford it make an effort to ensure they help those less fortunate.

Muslims celebrate this special time by putting on their best (new) clothing, offer Eid prayers and visit family and friends.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 14.16.04And in case you are wondering why so many stalls have popped up alongside the roads selling little baskets made out of palm leaves with grass sticking out. It is a very old tradition here in Bahrain called ‘Heya Beya’ and was a means to entertain children of parents who were doing the Hajj. Children planted the seeds when their parents set off on their Hajj and took care of them until they were fully grown. The evening before Eid Al-Adha, children then went to the seashore singing ‘Heya Beya’ to send their little baskets towards Mecca as a sign of sacrifice and good wishes for their parents to return home safely.


Eid Mubarak!

The new moon has been sighted and the end of the holy month of Ramadan has arrived. It also rings in the festival of Eid al-Fitr or the ‘FestivaIMG_3725l of Breaking the Fast’ and the start of the 10. month called ‘Shawwal’. 

After the Eid prayer, Muslims usually scatter to visit various family and friends to celebrate and give gifts (especially to children) for the three days of Eid. This year, the first day of Eid is 17. July and as this falls on the weekend, the official government holiday has been extended to also include Monday (20. July).

With the fasting month having come to an end, Muslims have concluded one of Islam’s five primary obligations, or ‘5 Pillars Of Faith’, each Muslim is obliged to. They consist of:

  1. Muslim life – ‘Shahadah’ or declaration that there is no god except God, and Muhammad is God’s Messenger;
  2. prayer – “Salat’ or ritual prayer five times a day;
  3. concern for the needy  – ‘Zakat’ or giving 2.5% of one’s savings to the poor and needy;
  4. self purification – ‘Sawm’ or fasting and self-control during the holy month of Ramadan;
  5. the pilgrimage – ‘Hajj’ to Mecca at least once in a lifetime if possible.

Your Guide to Islamic celebrations and public holidays in Bahrain

So, next up is a guide to religious celebrations and bank holidays here in Bahrain. As you know we are currently in the ninth month of the Islamic Hijri Calendar called ‘Ramadan’. ‘Ramadan’ stands for ‘the hot month’ as it translates as ‘to be burnt/scorched’ and it is believed that ‘Ramadan’ was originally a summer month. Half way through the month of fasting you might come across a little celebration called ‘Gergaoon’. It is the mid-Ramadan night’s celebration in which children wander from house to house while singing the traditional song of ‘Gergaoon’ to ask for treats.

The celebration of Eid al-Fitr is also known as the ‘Festival of Breaking of the Fast’ or ‘Sugar Festival’ and marks the end of fasting and the holy month of Ramadan. It is Islamic custom to celebrate Eid with a small sweet breakfast, and to give to charity before official Eid prayers (called ‘Salaat al-Eid’). Many Muslims celebrate by giving gifts, wearing new or festive clothes, and visiting friends and family. This year ‘the small Eid’, as it is also called, starts on Friday, 17 July and lasts for three days.

On a side note, the first day of Eid marks the start of the tenth month of the Islamic calendar called ‘Shawwal’ followed by ‘Dhu al-Qa’dah’ meaning the ‘the one of truce’ (eleventh month) and ‘Dhu al-Hijjah’ as ‘the one of pilgrimage’ marking the annual ‘Hajj’ or pilgrimage to Mecca (twelfth month). During these two months war historically is banned.

The public holiday after that is Day of Arafah which falls on the 9th day of ‘Dhu al-Hijjah’ (this year on 22 September 2015) and is the second day of the ‘Hajj’ pilgrimage. This day commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) last sermon standing on Mount Arafah near Mecca. Some Muslims will also fast on this day as it is common belief that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that fasting on the day of Arafah forgives all the minor sins of the past year and coming year.

The day after sees the start of the second official Muslim holiday called Eid al-Adha or the ‘Festival of the Sacrifice’. It honours the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his promised son, Ishmael, as an act of obedience to God.  As Abraham was about to kill his son, Allah stopped him and gave him a lamb to sacrifice instead. Since then Eid al-Adha is celebrated by slaughtering a sheep. Eid al-Adha will start on 23 September this year and will continue for three days.

Next up is Al Hijira or Islamic New Year! Coming full circle, ‘Muharram’ is the first month of the year and the word stems from the Arabic word ‘harram’ meaning that all kind of battles are ‘forbidden’. The tenth day of that month sees the ‘Day of Ashoora‘ (‘asha’ra’ means 10 in Arabic). This is the only day Alosra (local supermarket) is closed for the day! It is the day when Shi’a Muslims mourn the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali. He was one of the grandsons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and was killed at the Battle of Karbala on that day in 680 AD during a time of turmoil between the Prophet’s descendants over whose right it was to lead the Islamic community. This day is said to have essentially split the Islamic empire into two spheres – the Sunni (from “Ahl al-Sunna”, the people of the tradition) and the Shi’a (literally “Shiat Ali” or the party of Ali who was Prophet’s son-in-law).

16. December marks Bahrain National Day and is followed by another bank holiday of National Day Celebration on 17 December. Although 15 Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 11.08.55August 1971 is the actual date on which Bahrain gained its independence from the British, the state annually celebrates 16 December to coincide with the day that former ruler Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa became the 1st Emir of Bahrain in 1961. This is the only time when you will be able to see a firework display as part of any public holiday (no fireworks on New Year’s Eve here!).

Prophet’s Birthday or ‘Mawlid’ is to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which falls on the twelfth day of ‘Rabi’ al-Awwal’ (meaning ‘the first spring’), the third month in the Islamic calendar. This year it looks like it will fall onto 24 December meaning that Christmas Eve will be a bank holiday for once!

This just leaves us with two more bank holidays which are New Year’s Day making 1 January a public holiday as well as Bahrain Labour Day on 1 May.

If, however, any of these day falls onto our weekend (Friday or Saturday) then Bahraini law stipulates compensation for public sector employees meaning that the Sunday after is public holiday. To check actual dates of public holidays check the website of the Central Bank of Bahrain. Private sector employees, however, don’t enjoy the same benefit so malls and shops are mostly open!